Do you agree with Friedman’s characterization of today’s globalization, in particular his assertion that “individuals from every corner of the flat world are being empowered”? Why or why not?

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The title of Thomas Friedman's book The World is Flat has a two-fold implication. First, it is a reference to a long held but outmoded belief that the world is a flat surface (this notion was dismissed once the ancient Greeks introduced the idea of the earth as a sphere, and other theories followed, including those of circumnavigation). But more importantly, Friedman is referring to his idea that globalization has in effect "leveled the playing field" (a sports metaphor that means conditions for competition are made fair and equal) for all countries. One main reason for this is the use of digital technology and media for commerce and education (in other words, the Internet).

In a piece for NPR, excerpting his book, Friedman describes a trip he makes to India and the many ways in which the world has changed since the time of Columbus (the explorer who, in 1492, sailed from Europe to find India but instead, due to his poor understanding of navigation, found America): 

Columbus was searching for hardware — precious metals, silk, and spices — the sources of wealth in his day. I was searching for software, brainpower, complex algorithms, knowledge workers, call centers, transmission protocols, breakthroughs in optical engineering — the sources of wealth in our day.

In referring to the components of Internet commerce and information sharing as "sources of wealth," Friedman acknowledges the increased opportunities available to traditionally poor nations as a result of the globalization of technology (such as India, which still faces poverty as a major problem but which is also now a major international center of the tech industry), creating, as Friedman puts it, "the newfound power for individuals to collaborate and compete globally."

I think it is easy to agree with Friedman's assertion that opportunities for wealth and economic betterment have resulted from globalization. But it can also be said that these changes have made life worse in some developing countries. The rare minerals used in the making of electronics must be mined, mostly in China, and the workers who do this work suffer health problems and economic exploitation. Also in rural China, once a land of farming and agriculture, cities devoted to the production of technological products such as smartphones have created cultures of manufacturing previously unknown in those areas. This industry in China is characterized by harsh working conditions that result in personal problems for workers such as depression and suicide, as well as causing environmental damage to the landscape. 

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The World Is Flat

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