PRISM - American Society for Engineering Education - Logo NOVEMBER 2005 - VOLUME 15, NUMBER 3
teaching toolbox
The Age of Connections
By Robin Tatu


THE WORLD IS FLAT: A Brief History of the Twenty-First Century - By Thomas L. Friedman - Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 488 ppTHE WORLD IS FLAT:
A Brief History of the
Twenty-First Century
By Thomas L. Friedman
Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 488 pp

Whether they are handling U.S. tech hotlines or telemarketing credit cards, developing software, designing Boeing airplanes or even processing U.S. income tax returns, today, thousands of workers in China, India and Russia are working 24/7/365 to make themselves indispensable to the global market. Pulitzer Prize winner and New York Times columnist Thomas L. Friedman wants the rest of us to wake up and take our place in this new era of globalization.

In “The World Is Flat: A Brief History of the Twenty-First Century,” Friedman suggests that Globalization 3.0, as he terms it, began with the fall of the Berlin Wall, when political developments favoring free-market capitalism began to allow more global interaction. Barriers to international collaboration fell just as far-reaching technological advances began to soar, allowing vast numbers of people throughout the world to collaborate and compete in the global economy.

Globalization 3.0 differs significantly from earlier periods of expansion, Friedman says. It is often driven by the hard work of creative individuals, not just by countries and companies. And it is fueled not by steam engines, railroads and Gatling guns but by cutting-edge software and fiber-optic connectivity. Nor are the benefits limited to Europeans and Americans. Moreover, business hierarchies are being challenged as top-down structures transform into more horizontal relationships. The playing field has been leveled, Friedman says—the world is flat.

In the first half of the book, Friedman describes his encounters with the flat world in boardrooms, tech centers and manufacturing plants worldwide. He then analyzes “the 10 forces that flattened the world,” beginning with Berlin and encompassing such developments as the introduction of Microsoft Windows and the spread of the Internet. Yet while technology is crucial, many of Friedman’s flatteners involve innovative business strategies, ranging from outsourcing to off-shoring to open-sourcing—or free-ware.
“In-sourcing,” or assuming tasks previously performed by outside vendors, is a key feature of today’s United Parcel Service (UPS). UPS workers are not merely transporting laptops and printers needing repair; they are the ones making those repairs. They also dispatch and schedule supplies for Papa John’s pizza and process orders for Nike shoes and Jockey underwear.

For Friedman, UPS is a prime example of an organization that has repositioned itself to benefit from the changing global market. Urging others to follow UPS’s lead, he notes that while many jobs may be rendered obsolete by international competition, no measure of protectionism can stop this juggernaut of change. It makes more sense, he argues, for people to reinvent themselves accordingly. Indeed, the second half of the book focuses on how individuals, companies and countries can—and must—adjust.

Friedman is particularly concerned that Americans tackle the rapidly shifting demands of this new age. He worries about the impending shortage of American engineers and scientists just at the time when the demand for S&E is rising. The chapters that make up the section “America and the Flat World” examine how various groups can take action. “I’m not saying that every politician needs to be an engineer,” he writes, “but it would be helpful if they had a basic understanding of the forces that are flattening the world, were able to educate constituents about them and galvanize a response.” He warns that America’s intense focus on terrorism has obscured these other crucial issues.

Though the issues raised in Friedman’s book may be familiar to Prism readers, “The World Is Flat” provides a helpful framework for thinking about the developments of the past 20 years. And Friedman remains convinced that Americans can meet the challenge of Globalization 3.0: “On such a flat earth, the most important attribute you can have is creative imagination—the ability to be the first on your block to figure out how all these enabling tools can be put together in new and exciting ways to create products, communities, opportunities and profits. That has always been America’s strength because America was, and for now still is, the world’s greatest dream machine.”

Robin Tatu is a freelance writer based in Washington, D.C.


OPENING DOORS - By Alice Daniel
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TECH VIEW: Think Big, Teach Small - By Mary Kathleen Flynn
CIRCLE OF SUPPORT - Engineering schools are developing programs to help their female students fit in. - By Margaret Loftus
BOOK REVIEW: The World Is Flat - By Robin Tatu
RESEARCH: A More Perfect Union - By Gary S. Was
ON CAMPUS: A Human Touch - By Lynne Shallcross
LAST WORD: All in the Family - By Gary A. Gabriele and Jennifer Currey


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