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I’m beginning with a disclaimer that this (1/2 book) review of The World is Flat by Thomas Friedman is only my humble opinion. I don’t pretend to be an expert by any measure, particularly on a topic lived and breathed by a three time Pulitzer prize winner. In actuality, I’m writing this because I am on page 290 of a 566 page book and I am struggling to keep the momentum going. Truly, if others have differing opinions, or have different insights that would help me continue in a different vein, I would love to hear them.

As highly recommended as this book came, I was expecting new, groundbreaking ideas, patterns that I had overlooked, trends that I had missed. Unfortunately, after a captivating introduction, (While I Was Sleeping really set the tone) the book became a metronome, tick, tick, ticking away the same message, neither speeding up, nor slowing down. In fact, all of Friedman’s ideas addressed in that first chapter are repeated, again and again, for the next 150 pages. Perhaps the most revolutionary thing I learned that I hadn’t picked up from paying minor attention to business news, was that UPS is now a supply-chain manager. Who would have thought that there are Toshiba-certified technicians working for UPS? Perhaps a little more subtlety, and trust that Friedman’s readers would find the connections between his ideas would have made it more palatable.

Perhaps my next gripe has nothing to do with the book itself, but is shaped on my own personal thoughts. Throughout my reading, I felt a vague sense of discomfort, not the discomfort that comes with new ideas or the discovery or another point of view, but the discomfort that comes when a remark that is decidedly non-PC is made in casual company. Various occupations seem to be ranked in a hierarchy, not simply blue- or white-collar, but something seemingly more judgmental…well-educated vs. low-skilled. I worry about the portrayal of Indians as willing and eager to work for what basically amounts to peanuts in the United States. And it really bothers me that there is, throughout the half of the book I’ve read so far, that same sense of western-centric ideals that has gotten the United States in some very hot water over the past 50 years or so. But I digress.

I really wish that Friedman had explored the options of the people who will lose their jobs and livelihoods to outsourcing and supply-chaining. There is a very human element that must be addressed because if nothing else, it was made clear that this is the tidal wave of the future. The one comfort that was given is that society has met the technology challenge head on, and somehow, everything works itself out, mostly for the better. One such example is that of agriculture. We no longer need as many farmers; we have other sources of food. But what about the farmers who are no longer needed? I seem to recall an event called Farm-Aid in the mid 80’s specifically put on to help farmers who were unable to make a living anymore. Is this what will happen to others who are outsourced? The message given, throughout the book, seems to be “the end justifies the means.” Don’t worry about the people of today, because the people of tomorrow will benefit.

Again in closing, I hope there will be people who will respond to me, be it, “Right on! I’m thinking the exact same thing!” or “Are you crazy? Here is what you missed…” In the meantime, I will continue to read through the last half of the book, albeit at a slower pace than normal, and try not to take too many breaks…I still have four or so more books on my reading list!

August 2019
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