Monday, April 10, 2017


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 Thank You For Being Late ------- An Optimist’s Guide to Thriving in the Age of Accelerations; by Thomas L. Friedman; Published by   Farrar, Straus & Giroux ; Pages 486  Price $28.

Thomas Friedman has bagged three times the  Pulitzer Prize for his work  with the New York Times. We are all familiar with his “ World is Flat” with an introduction to Infosys of Bengaluru. That  book's genesis is the conversation Friedman has with Nandan Nilekani, the CEO of Infosys. Nilekani causally mutters to Friedman: "Tom, the playing field is being leveled."

Ten minutes after his talk with Nilekani, Friedman is pitching a tent in his company van on the road back from the Infosys campus in Bangalore:

As I left the Infosys campus that evening along the road back to Bangalore, I kept chewing on that phrase: "The playing field is being leveled." What Nandan is saying, I thought, is that the playing field is being flattened... Flattened? Flattened? My God, he's telling me the world is flat!

 In his latest book under review Friedman tackles the tremendous speed which distinguishes the pace of  change in technology, globalisation, and global climate.

People at large feel that the world is accelerating away from them — but why is what  they cannot comprehend. People thirst for a simple explanation. Thinkers and analysts should tell us what went wrong and how do we identify and attack the ailment.

Tom Friedman has put on a medico’s garb and offers medication. He has to his credit highly rated books on topics like  globalisation and climate change. He has the uncanny knack of explain lucidly complicated subjects.

His latest work has twin objectives--Why is our world  the way it is — why many items spin out of control,  and then attempt to convince us that “ God is in his Heaven and all is right with the World” as Robert Browning put it.

According to Friedman--- Man is quick to adapt but this capacity is outpaced by three things that have lightning speed-- technology, the market and climate change. On technology , Friedman writes “ that 2007, which saw the arrival of the iPhone, Android and Kindle, was the year when software began, in the words of Netscape’s founder, “eating the world”. He points out that if Moore’s law (that the power of microchips would double about every two years) had applied to the capabilities of cars, not computer chips, then the modern descendant of the 1971 Volkswagen Beetle would travel at 300,000 miles per hour, cost 4 cents and use one tank of gasoline in a lifetime.

All the  three forces interact, complicating and speeding up one another. In Niger, climate change is wrecking crops even as technology is helping more children survive, so a population of 19 million will reach 72 million hungry people by 2050. On trading floors, technology and markets create “spoofing,” so a 36-year-old geek, operating out of his parents’ flat by Heathrow, can make the Dow Jones index fall 9 percent in a “flash crash.”

 And everything, Friedman warns, will keep getting faster. There are already at least 10 billion things connected to the internet — but that is still less than 1 percent of the possible total as ever more cars, gadgets and bodies join “the internet of things.”

Man has sped up his own response times. It now takes us only 10-15 years to get used to the sort of technological changes that we used to absorb in a couple of generations; but what good is that when technology becomes obsolete every five to seven years?.

The book’s title comes from an offhand comment to a friend whose tardiness allowed a few welcome minutes of contemplation.Along the way we discover that the A.T.M. created more full-time teller jobs at banks (because it allowed banks to increase the number of branches). There are inspiring stories of communities rising to the challenge, and a memorable paean to the virtues of chickens from Bill Gates

 A parallel explosion of economic inter-dependency has created new riches as well as spiralling debt burdens. Meanwhile, Mother Nature is also seeing dramatic changes as carbon levels rise and species go extinct, with compounding results.

Friedman concludes that nations and individuals must learn to be fast (innovative and quick to adapt), fair (prepared to help the casualties of change), and slow (adept at shutting out the noise and accessing their deepest values).

His earlier tomes shot on to the bestseller lists by explaining how the rise of the internet and globalisation have changed our global economy — or made the world “flat”, to borrow the title of his  book “The World is Flat”. This book is woven in with wonderful personal stories. 

The three-time Pulitzer winner puts his familiar methodology—extensive travel, thorough reporting, interviews with the high-placed movers and shakers, conversations with the lowly moved and shaken—to especially good use here, beginning with a wonderful encounter with a parking attendant during which he explains the philosophy and technique underlying his columns and books.

 The book is framed as “an optimist’s guide to thriving and building resilience in this age of accelerations,” in which technology, globalisation, and climate change are advancing at speeds that our feeble human brains can barely comprehend.  Friedman argues that the best response is to roll with the changes.


03 / 04 / 2017

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