The Latest From Thomas Friedman

Thomas L. Friedman, author of The World is Flat, has a recent book with the unlikely title of  Thank You For Being Late: An Optimist’s Guide to Thriving in the Age of Accelerations.

The world is changing quickly, too quickly for many people.  Friedman identifies three major change agents — Moore’s law (the increase in computer capabilities,, the Market (with increased globalization), and Mother Nature (climate change and biodiversity loss).  Not only is change happening in all these areas simultaneously, it is accelerating.   The result is a profound effect on five areas of our lives — our workplaces, politics, geopolitics, ethics, and communities.

Friedman pinpoints the year 2007 as a major milestone: the release of the iPhone, plus advances in silicon chips, software, storage, sensors, and networking all combined to create a new technology paradigm.  He goes so far to label this “the supernova” for the way everything is being reshaped, from how we hail a taxi to the fate of nations to our relationships.  For those who can keep up, it is creating new opportunities.  Or will it be our downfall?

The description on calls this “a work of contemporary history that serves as a field manual for how to write and think about this era of accelerations.”   The “Being Late” in the title is a reminder to reflect on this amazing historical epoch with its possibilities and dangers.

Personally, I have doubts about happy endings.  But Friedman is an optimist, which springs from the book’s final major part, Anchoring.  (The three preceding parts are Reflecting, Accelerating, Innovating.)  In it he uses the lessons of growing up Jewish in Minnesota to show how our contemporary world can learn and thrive.  He pushes his case hard; too hard, perhaps — with a tendency to ramble, this is the weakest part of the book.

Friedman is a clever observer.  My favorite phrase was “The skyboxification of American Life” to emphasize how much the upper class has distanced itself from the rest of us.  At one time everyone sat in the grandstand at sporting events.  No matter what your status or income, you suffered through the same bad weather and indignities as your fellow fans (no small feat in Minnesota).  But that’s no longer true; modern stadiums are segregated by wealth, with the upper class in expensive luxury while everyone else is still coping with the vagaries of the weather and whatever obnoxious neighbors they have the misfortune to sit with.  And this is now the norm for society in general.

Is Friedman’s optimism misplaced?  This book is worth the read to see if you agree.

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