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Aug 17

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Thank You for being late: An optimist’s guide to surviving in the age of accelerations – Thomas Friedman

Just as I was coursing through the final two Chapters of Thomas Friedman’s latest book, a brazen group of white supremacists engaged in a violent clash with nationalists in Charlotsville V.A in the United States. Nazi salutes and Ku Klux Klan tenets strode side by side as bigotry, hatred and discrimination raised their ugly heads. The whole charade finally culminated, but not before a demented driver ploughed his car into the banks of protestors killing one. It also did not help that an inherently abrasive and innately abusive President issued a note of condemnation that was extraordinarily reluctant and barely perceptible.

There could not have been a more vivid contrast between the values espoused by Friedman in his book and the causes which the protestors in Charlotsville were so unashamedly saturated with. While Friedman calls for inclusivity, embracing diversity and a collegial relationship between the State and its citizens, the white supremacists of Charlotsville demanded racial segregation, discrimination and a bigoted division based on caste, creed, colour and country. This paradigmatic clash of contradictions reflects in no small manner the crossroads at which the world finds itself in this 21st Century. It is this very fork to the end of which Friedman takes us in his very important book.

In this part memoir, part introspection, Friedman identifies three major forces that are currently accelerating and consequently shaping the contours of how an inextricably connected humanity thinks and acts. These three contending and cascading forces are Moore’s Law, Markets and Mother Nature.

While technology has taken quantum leaps with significant breakthroughs littering and embellishing the realms of Artificial Intelligence and Genome mapping, it has also percolated top down empowering every individual desirous of being so empowered. In Friedman’s words, technology is now “fast, free and ubiquitous” and also “fast, free, easy for you and invisible”. When Gordon Moore first formulated his now ubiquitous law – doubling the power of microchips every two years but at a lower cost – it sounded an incredulous proposition. However as Friedman points out: “if you took Intel’s first generation microchip from 1971, the 4004, and the latest chip Intel has on the market today, the sixth generation Intel Core processor, you will see that Intel’s latest chip offers 3,500 times more performance, is 90,000 times more energy efficient, and is about 60,000 times lower in cost”.

The Accelerating Moore’s Law also creates a ripple effect on the markets. Using high fibre optic cables, traders now compete for advantages that are measured in nano seconds as millions are made or lost depending upon the vagaries of technology. A rogue trader sitting in London can manipulate the stocks and futures indices functioning thousands of miles away in Chicago or New York and instigate an episode of dances macabres.

Finally the accelerating technology and markets have a colossal impact on Mother Nature as her occupants exploit mercilessly her finite resources in the name of development. Friedman relies on the words of the London based investor and environmentalist Adam Sweidan who describes global warming as a “black elephant”. According to Sweidan, a black elephant “is a cross between a black swan – a rare, low probability, unanticipated event with enormous ramifications – and the elephant in the room: a problem that is widely visible to everyone, yet that no one wants to address, even though we absolutely know that one day it will have vast black swam like consequences”

After describing these three unavoidable forces of change, Friedman mulls over the challenges faced by mankind in adapting to this change. The time taken for adapting oneself to such a change is inversely proportional to the speed at which the change itself is being unleashed upon us. Friedman is of the opinion that for the consequences of a new technology to be completely absorbed by the users it would take at least 15 years from the advent of such a technology. But by the time the consequences are deciphered the technology would have ceased to become relevant, being swallowed up by an even newer and enhanced version. Thus adaptability will always be in a catch up mode!

In the second half of the book, Friedman proposes a few nuggets of prescriptive wisdom by which we can not only withstand the accelerating change but also exploit it to make the world a much better, simpler and amicable place to live in. He takes us to his childhood and growing up years in St Louise Park in Minnesota where there was fostered a culture of openness, amiability, cordiality, compassion, equality and acceptance. Banking on an African adage which states that ‘it takes a village to bring up a child’, Friedman passionately makes a case for communities to imbibe responsibility and assume the role of change agents. Using a mixture of top down and bottom up approaches, ordinary citizens and policy makers need to work in tandem to ensure that issues of raging importance such as education, infrastructure and gender equality are given the right degree of attention that they so desperately and richly deserve.

If at all I have any reservations about Friedman’s fantastic book, it is that it is too very inclusive. Although a citizen of the world in its truest and pure sense, I get this unassailable feeling that “Thank You For Being Late” is more for The United States of America in exclusion to the rest of the world. Since the changes of acceleration equally impact every corner of the globe (in some regions the impact is materially greater than that faced by America), I would have expected Friedan to offer a holistic and global perspective.

Then again with a vicious, unthinking, deranged and demented demagogue now at the helm of affairs in the United States, it is the citizens of this world super power who are in dire need of Friedman’s prescriptions. Meanwhile the Neo Nazis still carry on uninhibited expecting to TRUMP….

About the author

Venkat

maniacal penchant for books, more books, still more books and lot more books - When I am not watching cricket that is! Love my Scotch and scribble for fun!

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