Sun, May 08, 2005 - Page 19 News List

'In China today, Bill Gates is Britney Spears'

By Mark Davis  /  NY TIMES NEWS SERVICE

"The World is Flat: A Brief History of the 21st Century"
By Thomas L. Friedman
496 pages
Farar, Straus and Giroux

Listen up American students, Professor Friedman has a lesson for you: Globalization is revolutionizing the world.

Like it or not, the sooner you adapt to all the technological and geopolitical changes, the brighter your futures will become. And the US won't be wondering what happened to its superpower status when the world became flat. Columbus may roll in his grave, but repeat these words: The world is flat.

Not only does Professor Friedman believe it, he has seen it firsthand. "Professor Friedman" is actually award-winning New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman, and his story should be read by everyone who is interested in how the world is quickly shrinking in the early 21st century.

Friedman is not a professor (although he has served as visiting professor at Harvard University) but his latest book, The World is Flat: A Brief History of the 21st Century, feels very much like a college textbook. It's large, scholarly and quite educational. And thanks to Friedman's clear and punchy prose, it's better than most textbooks.

The World is Flat is an updated version of Friedman's first book on globalization, The Lexus and the Olive Tree, which was published only five years ago. In his new book, Friedman admits that he got caught up in 9/11 and the subsequent wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and lost sight of globalization's latest movements.

"Globalization 3.0" is what he calls his latest chronicle on the rapid convergence of technology and economics that has smashed borders and has caused both joy and anxiety to humans and political systems.

"If I am right about the flattening of the world," Friedman writes, "it will be remembered as one of those fundamental changes -- like the rise of the nation-state or the Industrial Revolution -- each of which, in its day ... produced changes in the role of individuals, the role and form of governments, the way we innovated and the way we conducted business."

Friedman's book doesn't break any new ground or offer a sure-fire way to cope with such rapid and complex changes. But Friedman, a three-time winner of the Pulitzer Prize, is a masterful observer and has a unique talent for relating to the common man. Plus he's a relentless interviewer, traversing the globe like Nellie Bly and getting everyone's input on the flat world, including Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates and former Mexican president Ernesto Zedillo.

Despite the intricate subject, The World is Flat is enjoyable to read -- most of the time. Friedman gets carried away with some of the more minute developments of globalization (triple convergence and various economic theories) and seems to repeat himself occasionally. Like a passionate professor, he's not afraid to lecture, but he does it in a likeable way after carefully presenting his case.

The World is Flat primarily focuses on two emerging giants on the world stage -- India and China. The lowering of trade and political barriers and huge advances in technology have allowed the two Asian countries to level the global playing field and compete for superpower status.

Friedman writes that Globalization 3.0 isn't about major corporations but about empowering the individual, mainly through the Internet and related technologies. China and India have competed and won low-wage manufacturing and information jobs and are on the fast track to creating wealthier, more intelligent societies. Friedman writes that young Chinese and Indians are ambitious and very hungry.

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