Back in 2000, Tom Friedman recounts, the world began to shrink and flatten, under the influence of digital interconnectivity. Elaborating on his World is Flat thesis, Friedman describes how this new global order puts creative, entrepreneurial individuals in the driver’s seat, and poses distinct new challenges and opportunities.
The digital platform that connects Bangalore, Boston and Beijing enables users from any of these places to “plug, play, compete, connect and collaborate,” and is changing everything, says Friedman. He lists some basics to keep in mind: Whatever can be done, will be done, “and the only question left is will it be done by you or to you.” Friedman describes a Budapest limo driver who asked him to refer friends traveling to Hungary to use his service — as detailed in a website in Magyar, with English and German translations. And there’s the Sioux City- Winnebago Indian network, exporting construction tools to Kuwait. In our new era, individuals are limited only by their imaginations, so how well universities and schools enable and inspire students will determine who wins in global competition. Innovation, believes Friedman, will come from “having two or more specialties,” from those people able to connect the dots and mash them together.
But the U.S. has a real problem: We’ve “kind of lost our groove since 9/11,” and may end up ceding the global competition to China unless we get our act together, believes Friedman. We “cannot go on being as dumb as we want to be, and right now that is the motto of the U.S. Congress.” We have tons of natural attributes in this country we should be leveraging, he says. A bigger problem still is that three billion new players are streaming into this newly flat world, seeking their own version of the American dream, with cars, toasters, and microwaves. “If we don’t find a cleaner, more non-emitting way to power their dreams, we’re going to burn up, choke up, heat up and smoke up this planet so much faster than even Al Gore predicts.” Friedman scoffs at those who claim “a green revolution is going on,” calling it instead a green party, entailing no real sacrifice or pain. He says the only hope will be a “disruptive breakthrough” that brings a completely different mix of standards and taxes.” Friedman’s new mantra is, “Change your leaders, not your light bulbs.” Without new leaders to rewrite our laws and trigger the innovations, “we are cooked.”