The World is Flat !

Posted November 5th, 2005 by Harry Baya

I read the first chapter of “The World is Flat” tonight (by Thomas L. Friedman, here is the Amazon.com link). I want to write my thoughts down before I read any more. I’ve been mulling over some thoughts for several weeks and this book is so strongly related that I want to write down my thoughts before they are blown away. The book is very well thought out and very strong and my thoughts, though similar, are kind of mushy, willowy and vapor like. Here goes.

I guess I should mention the underlying metaphor for “The World is Flat”. The author tells how several outsourcing operations in India describe the opportunity that enables them to compete for work now when they could not do so ten or 20 years ago. They said that changes in computers and the internet had “leveled the playing field”. This removed the advantages that had previously favored the “home team”. Extending the metaphor of “leveling the playing field” to apply to an already large, and still growing, portion of the planet leads to the conclusion that “The World is Flat”. Probably a more accurate title would have been “The World is Becoming Flatter Every Day”… but the author picked the catchier one, bless his heart!

It seems to me that we are in the middle of a very big shift in the social fabric of our world. I don’t know what else to call it. It has to do with the way people work together to do things, the way they interact about a topic, a goal, a desire, an interest…. almost anything that people can do with other people. It relates to one to one, threesomes, foursomes, and in fact any size group up to the entire population of the planet. It’s most related to the internet, but it’s also related to cell phones, and Tivo, and interstate highways, and anything that relates to communications and transportation.

It feels to me like there are little tentacles reaching out from population centers (including houses, institutions, companies, clubs, churches, towns, cities and on and on) toward each other and they are starting to connect, to touch, to form networks, to create things like neural networks in the brain. They are forming new living beings, new entities, new dynamic creatures. I sense it in things like Google, and Amazon.com, and all the helpful websites that are coming into being, and evolving. It relates most strongly to people helping each other, actions by individuals that benefit others, that help others do what they want to do. You can see it in listservs, in community sites, in Blogs (especially in blogs), in discussion forums, in educational software (my area now) like Blackboard, and WebCT and ANGEL. It’s part of the the ISPs that support web developers, like 1&1 (the one I use) and my son’s SVAHA.com.

It’s not so much that these things are new, though some of them are, it’s that they are hitting a kind of critical mass, and they are going through apparently minor evolutionary changes that are somehow allowing them to become part of a much bigger entity rather than being independent processes. Most of the essesnce of this has been here since the pre-cursors of the internet.. like Compuserve, and BBS’s, but the changes are siginificant, and the underlying infrastructure is somehow permitting an acclerating interaction that, to me, feels almost explosive. It’s the chrystal theory of change… where one local structural change permeates rapidly throught the medium. In this case each permeation lays the basis for another supporting change and another permeation occurs. I feel it’s happening to fast to understand… rather we can only feel it happening.. and see the results clearly only some time after they have occurred.

I feel that I, and billions of others, are being swept along in a tidal wave of change that we can barely sense because everything around us is being swept with us… we don’t realize that we have been moved because our visible world looks much the same.. but sooner or later we will see that huge changes have occured and that we are really really not in Kansas any more.

It is a growing supporting environment that individuals are using to make things (or say things) that will help others to do what they want in life. It is an evolving infrastructure that allows us to share what we learn from day to day, to share what we discover. The Blog is an example, trivial though it is.

I suspect the word “collaboration” catches it best.. but it’s a new kind of collaboration, one that was never possible before the internet. It’s just starting to come into being. The tools and the results are still primitive, still first generation…or even Beta, of Alpha… and, my guess, in many cases not yet even a twinkle in anyone’s eyes.

I have felt it stirring. I have smelled the beast from a distance. I have tried to talk about it to others… and been frustrated at not being able to communicate my sense… it’s almost pre-verbal. I was telling someone about it and they said “Have you read ‘The World is Flat'”. I said, “No, but I did order it from Amazon.com last night”. Now I’ve got it… and I think it’s the author’s reaction to the same things that generated the awareness I am writing about here.

I wanted to write these thoughts down before I read further because the author of that book has thought this stuff through so much more than I have and I doubt that I will be able to invoke the feint awareness of my own insight that I can still feel now. This book will blow that away and replace most of it… but I think that’s what coming is not visible to anyone yet. It’s going to be very big, and very important, and it’s going to become visible in the next few years. It’s already starting to emerge, and that’s what triggered the book, but it’s just starting, and it’s going to be in radical transition, and emergence, from now on. My guess is that we are just becoming aware of the first phase and that this phase will peak in the next five years or so. There will be a lull at some point while initial impact is assimilated, while the infrastructure and the human psychic environment (the social fabric, the meme structure of our world) adjusts and forms a foundation for the next phase. The second phase will last for a long time…more of a long term growth than a sudden shift, and it will change human society in ways we can barely imagine…e.g. it may end war, it may end national boundaries, it may allow focusing of effort to deal with disease and natural disasters the way …umm what’s it called when any number of computers can be connected to form a more and more powerful computer entity ..like the SETI project… that way!

My gut feeling is that this is the start of the visible part of a change that will be as important to the human race as the creation of language… i.e. far more important than the invention of writing, or printing. In my book, this is a biggie… and it’s starting NOW.

I love to think big thoughts. I know that I’m not saying anything of real substance… just blowing smoke about some vague awareness I have that, for whatever the reason, feels to me like a great insight. Still, if I can communicate nothing other than the level of excitement and wonder that these thoughts are giving me, I will have done something as important as writing a good song to sing for you. Harry Nov 4, 2005

4 Responses to “The World is Flat !”

  1. Matthew Baya

    In case other reader’s are like me and have no idea about the book you are referring to it might be nice to include a link like this for it. I had to look it up on Amazon to get that link, looks interesting.

    Also, for the record, it’s Svaha.Com not Svaha.net, we don’t own that domain (though we’ve been trying to buy it for years).

    Interesting post, alot to digest, I don’t have any deep comments regarding this at this time, I’m just trying to ride the wave without drowning like the rest of us.

    -Matt

  2. Harry Baya

    Matt,
    I added the link.. so now there are two.. the one in your comment and the one in my entry. I also corrected the entry to say Svaha.com. I got one e-mail from a friend who said “You do go on a bit.” How true. I may go back and rewrite these “Flat World” entries to see if Ican cut them down to about 20% of their current size.

  3. Brian Ferris

    You might be interested in some of the discussion that’s been going on for the past year or so about Web 2.0. From my perspective (for what its worth) Web 2.0 is a somewhat vague concept of the evolution of the web towards better facilitating contact and interaction between people, that reminds me somewhat of what you discuss here. Here’s a link to O’Reilly who spearheaded a lot of this:
    http://www.oreillynet.com/pub/a/oreilly/tim/news/2005/09/30/what-is-web-20.html

  4. Harry Baya

    Brian.. Right On! I just spent about ten minutes looking over the Web 2.0 stuff and I think that much, maybe all, of what I am sensing and trying to verbalize is being dealt with in their discussions. Many of the participants are major Interenet players and their perspective is much broader and deeper than mine…but I feel somewhat confirmed in my views, and not so much like a loner who happen to sense something that no one else could feel. I hope to spend some time with the Web 2.0 material. Thanks!

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