The World is Flat Study Guide (Choose to Continue)


The World is Flat: Metaphor

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Metaphors of Speed and Direction


Friedman uses metaphors of speed and direction for the irreversible flow of technological progress. One had better get into the race or be left behind. Other countries like India and China, for instance, “are running a marathon while we [Americans] are running sprints” (Chpt. 8, p. 326). World business is compared to sports competition. Ireland is playing offense, for instance, while Germany and France are playing defense (Chpt. 10, p. 408). We must learn to use technology as fast as we can, so competitors will not “drive” over us (Chpt. 11, p.426). Business is often compared to a car. India takes a look under the hood of companies and sees how to offer them a “whole lube job” (Chpt. 2, p. 135). Internet protocol codes are called “the Internet railroad” (Chpt. 2, p. 81), and when the railroad tracks come to one's town, one had better take advantage. Business is also like water; it will go to where it is easiest, like water running downhill. Therefore, there is no point in objecting to outsourcing, since it is a natural flow of work to where there is least resistance. A supply chain like Walmart's is a smooth worldwide river. It is important to stay lined up in the right direction to be in step. Flatness, for instance, is the way Friedman describes a world without walls. Walls, whether the Berlin Wall, or tariff walls, are bad. There must be a free flow until the curves of earth are flattened, and there are no bumps. This is a horizontal and level playing field. Vertical no longer leads anywhere.


Metaphors of Competition and Destruction


Friedman uses a lot of metaphors to describe competition, making it sound like the world is getting more competitive day by day, and one has to speed up to stay in the race. The Internet race is also like the gold rush, implying there are many after a few precious nuggets trying to stake out their claims. When China got into the race, it seemed like people had to go faster. In a factory in China, Friedman found a quote about how a gazelle had to wake up running to outrun lions, and lions had to wake up running to catch a gazelle. It does not matter if you are a lion or gazelle, you had better run. Friedman quotes Deng Xiaoping who changed Chinese policy from communism toward market capitalism with the phrase, “'Black cat, white cat, all that matters is that it catches mice'” (Chpt. 10, p. 399). These are images of survival at any cost. Friedman also heard a similar metaphor quoted by a Chinese bank official who said China was once afraid of the wolf, then it wanted to dance with the wolf, and now it wanted to be the wolf (Chpt. 10, p. 394). These images of commerce make it sound like a new kind of world war. Friedman quotes Shirley Ann Jackson, president of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, as worried that Americans are falling behind in producing scientists. The situation is ominous, like the ingredients for a “'perfect storm'” with many conditions converging to bring about a terrible devastation (Chpt. 8, p. 327).


Metaphors of Collaboration


On the other hand, Friedman wants to paint a picture of technology as bringing greater hope for collaboration and peace to the world. If business is like sports, then it can also be a team sport. The players are on a leveled field and must coordinate to make products and services that will sell. When he speaks of American business in India, he writes of how Americans first dated and then married with Indian companies after they found they were reliable. The old world order came down with the Berlin Wall that became the Berlin Mall. Food also conveys positive images of change. Businesses must now offer something special to stay around. They cannot be a vanilla flavor. Anything generic and vanilla will be outsourced. Businesses must add something unique to create a sundae, a chocolate sauce, a cherry, something more. There need be no fear that globalization means homogenization or Americanization. It does not mean there will be McDonald's and Big Macs in every corner of the globe. A better metaphor, he says, is pizza. There might be a standard crust, but each country can add its own cultural toppings.



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