How Flat From Here?

        Long drives and a short, smooth install make up today. We go through the desert to Multan, some small town in which SOS (Save Our Souls, weird acronym) International wants a computer lab. The women running the place is married to the “sultan of multan,” some dude who’s big-time in textiles. A strange sight when we stop in her driveway: a 12-foot trampoline in the yard. I guess you need toys that let your kids land on their heads even in the middle of a desert in the middle of an Islamic republic.
        The install is my last for Communitech, and it couldn’t have been much smoother. Of course, a hint of the ghetto is preserved: we use tape instead of screws to improvise mounts for the hard drives.
        Before back, we go to what would appropriately be referred to as the colonel’s mansion. KFCs in deep West Philly feature bulletproof windows; with a play area, multiple stories, heavy air conditioning, TVs all over the place, and an almost-life-sized colonel, this is the opposite end of the spectrum and then some. Unfortunately, the food’s just as fried and the (halal) chicken’s grade C at best.
        The drive’s 5+ hours each way, so reading or sleeping in the car is most of my day. I finish Thomas Friedman’s latest globalization tome, “The World Is Flat.” Basically, I take his argument to be that, due to 10 powerful forces, the world is becoming “flatter:” barriers of all types, from trade tariffs to costs of connectivity, are being weakened or eliminated, and this is putting people previously privileged or disadvantaged because of non-merit-based factors in closer proximity and more direct competition. Further, this flattening helps Infosys and terrorists, creating global, empowering meritocracies and worldwide, clandestine terror networks. He argues his point through a bunch of anecdotes about his travels and a “good old boys” worldwide club of tech hotshots sure to make most envious of his New York Times travel budget and address book.
        Nearly 500 pages feels a bit long, but it’s entertaining and thought-provoking. Mainly, I’m thinking “am I screwed?” and “how flat from here?”
        Am I in for it? Are super-smart Indians going to steal all potential jobs, with Russians getting any interviews that open up? Should I throw in the towel and join a racist union, trying to protect my ass regardless of how unfair it may be for the rest of the world? Nah. This latest outsourcing hubbub isn’t all that different from when America realized that, compared to Japan, we suck at making cars. Also, many talk about Americans maintaining economic leadership through our “entrepreneurial spirit.” I think this is mostly bullshit, but taking crazy risks will probably allow me to continue to enjoy my ridiculously inflated Western standard of living. Speaking of which, why don’t I hear anybody saying the obvious: stop spending so much, and you won’t be worried about whether you’ll lose your job. I’m pretty happy when I have a hold in the ground as my bathroom; if I’ve got to choose between this and working thousand-hour weeks to maintain my “global competitiveness,” I’ll go with squatting.
        I started this book while still in Cameroon, continuing reading through India and Pakistan. So, how flat from here? From an African backwater with some natural resources and not much else, through a billion mostly impoverished people, and into an Islamic republic whose main export seems to be religious totalitarianism as its people wallow illiterate and without revolt, how flat is the world from here and, more importantly, how flat can it get? I think Friedman would agree with my answers: “not very” and “not much more unless America stops fucking up.” Friedman mentions that nuclear terrorist attack could “permanently unflatten” the world; I’d add that the current global hegemon continuing its adventures into empire and away from democracy could mess things up pretty long-term too, especially with Europe so scared of Polish plumbers that it’s slowing down one of the best political processes the world has going. OK, enough ranting: I think I need to vent by starting to actively participate in the blogosphere (= community of online weblogs that often spirals into debates I think I’d like to have).

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