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Are we living in a flat world?

Updated on January 24, 2013

The World Is Flat: A Brief History of the Twenty-First Century by Thomas L Friedman, Pulitzer Prize winning New York Times columnist turned out to be an international best selling work that explains the world of convergence. In other words, we are living in a flat world. Friedman demystifies the fast paced world of convergence that has turned the world flat. “With his inimitable ability to translate complex foreign policy and economic issues, Friedman explains how the flattening of the world happened at the dawn of the twenty-first century; what it means to countries, companies, communities, and individuals; and how governments and societies can, and must, adapt. The World Is Flat is the timely and essential update on globalization, its successes and discontents, powerfully illuminated by one of our most respected journalists” (

There are several implications of the flat world in the 21st century. For the first time ever in the human history, the world of commerce has created a level playing field and hence an equal opportunity for all competitors. Furthermore, the national geographical boundaries are increasingly becoming meaningless in the global market, hence the nations, companies and the individuals must make a perceptual shift so as to remain competitive in the current global scenario. The inspiration for this book comes to the author from his visit to Bangalore when he realized the core economic concepts were changing as rapidly as the rules of the game in the brave new world

Friedman visualizes three phases of globalization while we are witnessing the third phase. These phases of globalization made the flat world increasingly possible. The first two phases – phaseI (from 1492 to early 1800s) and phaseII (from 1800 onwards) – included countries and the governments bringing about global convergence, while globalization 2.0 was driven by the multinational companies. Globalization 3.0 has literally flattened the world by doing away with the geographical boundaries in a complex web of business relations where workers from typists and call center executives to more skilled workers from India and China work for such companies as Microsoft and Dell. In context of the latest globalization, the author identifies ten flatteners of new global business.

Of the ten flatteners, that is, the events that made the flat world, the first three – fall of Berlin wall in 1989, Netscape going public in 1995 and the creation of workflow software – created a kind of platform for the global collaboration to take place. The fall of Berlin wall represented the breakdown of the East-West global barrier. Five months later, window 3 allowed individuals to create their own digital content. The Netscape revolution in August 1995 created the dotcom boom leading to global connectivity and convergence via optical fiber cables. Similarly the workflow software enabled the companies to communicate within and across the companies leading to yet higher level of connectivity, communication and productivity.

The next six flatteners represent the newly emerging forms of collaboration. Flattener 4 is outsourcing, letting the companies focus on their core competencies as digital technologies allow certain functions to be turned into commodities. Flattener 5 is off-shoring that made companies offset their lack of capital after the dotcom burst. Flattener 6 is uploading identified in more ways than one, each more powerful than the earlier version. Open sourcing allowed individuals to take on the corporation, followed by blogging and podcasting. Friedman identifies supply chaining as the 7th flattener. The example given is that of Wal-Mart, the biggest supply chain giant in America operating globally. The company doesn’t make a thing as it has more than 78,000 manufacturers under its belt. Flattener 8 is Insourcing, while flattener 9 is Informing.Evidently then we are living in a flat world.


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