the world is flat

theworldisflatThe World is Flat: a Brief History of the Twenty-First Century, by Thomas L. Friedman

i’ve had this important book on my “to read” pile for four years, i think. i kept meaning to get to it, but didn’t. but when dave gibbons, who i’ve been talking with about doing some writing together, said i needed to read it, i put it at the top of my list, and read it in one long day on a recent silent retreat (it’s really long, so reading it in one day was a big deal!).

i’m sure many of you have read it, so i’ll get right to the point: first half of the book is brilliant, and the second half of the book lost my attention. in the first half, friedman traces the global changes that are changing how we work (and play). he includes tons of great illustrations and interviews with business leaders in the u.s., india, china, and elsewhere. and he breaks it down into ten forces that precipitated this global shift. it was fascinating and inspiring (in a “you better change or you’re going to die” kind of way). in fact, at one point, i put the book down, pulled out my laptop, and whipped up a white paper for an idea for ys, using language from the book.

the second half of the book moves more into implications for business and government. the author gets a little preachy, and i think much of this ground could have been (and likely has been) covered in other books that are move focused on those topics.

and, i had a strange experience reading the book. my copy of the book is the original, published in 2005. i didn’t realize until later that there have been a couple revisions. but when i finally picked up the book to read it, i instantly thought: “shoot, this is going to be totally out of date.” funny, that i thought a book published four years ago would already be totally out of date. but i was right (and this stuff might be corrected/addressed in the later editions). there are all kinds of tweaky little things that are already dated, like lots of references to AOL (who uses them anymore?) and Palm Pilots (really? were they only that short ago?). there’s barely a mention of wikipedia (in the part where you’d expect it you’d expect it to be discussed), and facebook doesn’t show up once. this wasn’t a slam on the book. hardly. in fact, if intensifies the point of the book: that things are changing so fast this book is already more helpful as a historical document than as a suggestion of where things are headed.

all that aside: if you haven’t read this book yet, you should. i wish i’d moved it up my reading stack a few years earlier than i did.

2 thoughts on “the world is flat”

  1. Marko,
    I could not agree more with your assessment — I notice you have a picture of an expanded edition — I had the original first printing that has been sitting on a stack. I read about the first 70 pages — your post prodded me to pick it up again.

  2. Marko, I also liked the book, but understand that the book (or theory) has gone through a couple of iterations now known as World is Flat 3.0 There are critics including system’s theorist Peter Senge (The Fifth Discipline) who argues that most of the way global commerce works still relies on certain political and economic conditions it does not control (for instance a war between India and Pakistan could really change all those wonderful call centers or the rise of gasoline may ultimately make off-shore manufacturing as expensive as manufacturing here). In short the virtual world still requires a fairly stable global/political reality…just ask all of the banking institutions in light of 9/11.

    Perhaps one way to acknowledge the change is to say there are “mediated” communities (as there have always been) and that the nature of media (be it internet technology or just the sound system in a sanctuary or the use of a hymnal to guide singing) inevitably shapes the nature of the communities. Liturgical theology has always acknowledged this (hence why there were battles on the arrangement of the furniture in worship…for instance the placement of the communion table to the back or front of the worship space) so I do not think we have to abandon liturgical sensibilities particularly in a world of Web 2.0 where people are learning to be producers instead of just consumers on the internet. Right now a theology of technology might actually learn a lot from sacramental/liturgical theology if we are willing to allow these to talk with each other.

    Our day reminds me of transitions in pastoral care with the rise of hospitals and the practice of medicine, where certain aspects of pastoral care may have to adapt but other aspects of pastoral care actually positively influence the hospital “culture.” Perhaps we need similar models of practical theology in light of communications technology.

    On the technology side, two meta-theorists of an earlier generation, Marshal McLuhan and Ramon Williams, had different takes on the nature of what media delivers (McLuhan more optimistic, Williams more cautionary). We all have to deal with how technology changes culture (for instance some say laptops are now passé’ with the advent of cell phone technological additions) but I think we can also provide a healthy theological framework for both critique and creative response.

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