The World Is Flat (Part 1): Competition On Our Plateau
On August 9, 2005, Brett posted the first installment of The Rebelution's first-ever series: "The World Is Flat." He had just finished Thomas Friedman's book by that title, and was asking himself, "How does a level global playing field affect teenagers?" The following post was his attempt at answering those questions.The convergence of technology and events over the past several decades has allowed India and China, as well as many other countries, to become major players in the global supply chain for services and manufacturing; so argues Thomas L. Friedman in his book, "The World Is Flat." As the title indicates, Friedman believes that the playing field is being leveled.
This isn’t news to us. The “Made In China” label can be found on winter jackets from Timberland, on the cheap toys accompanying McDonald’s Happy Meals, and on the yellow Livestrong bracelets that champion cancer research. Many of us have recognized the thinly veiled Indian accent of the young man walking us through our computer glitch, though not all of us know that this Microsoft employee is actually working from a cubicle in Bangalore, India.
Technology has multiplied the possibilities for collaboration. Call center operators and assembly line workers can be hired, paid, and put to work wherever it is cheapest and most efficient to do so. This is recognized by Microsoft, Dell, IBM, Hewlett-Packard, Nike, Wal-Mart, Texas Instruments, etc, etc, etc. The newest methods of collaboration have been adopted in the medical field, where doctors can scan handwritten medical reports, diagnoses, and prescriptions at night before heading home and receive them back the next morning as transferable digital files (carefully transcribed by workers in India) and peer reviewed (most likely from doctors in India or Australia who operate in the opposite day/night time zone).
This means that China, India, Australia, etc. are gaining the ability to do work that they wouldn’t have been able to do 10 years ago. More importantly, they've taken work that was done by Americans 5 years ago and are doing it for a fraction of the cost. Why the change? Technology. Fiber optic cables that run to all corners of the globe carry anything that can be digitized, and countries far behind us are picking themselves back up by feeding on the scraps from our table. They do our manufacturing, they man our call centers, and they wait their turn. For now many of them seem to understand that the United States paves the way, but others seem ill content to remain inferior. As one Chinese businessman put it, “First we were scared of the wolf, then we wanted to dance with the wolf, and now we want to be the wolf.”
These countries have been pushing themselves to compete with the U.S. and have now been granted the technology to stand on our plateau. The question is, “Are we ready for them?