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“The World is Flat” by Thomas Friedman


Nobody can convince Charles Johnson that the world is not flat. Not when it looks that way from his front yard. His home in South California stands on a hillside. Everything within several miles of his home is visible from this position. He can see the Mojave Desert, Lancaster city, Tehachapi Mountains and Los Angeles, all within twenty miles. He further argues that it is not possible to orbit flat earth. And therefore believes that the idea of a space shuttle is not real and the assumption that the earth is a globe is a myth. He is, however, quick to assert that nobody knows the actual shape of the earth. Johnson further quotes the Holy Bible to reinforce his argument. He says that the Bible implies that the earth is flat and Jesus ascended into heaven. Arguing that the earth is a globe makes the Bible a lie as it disputes the fact that Jesus ascended into heaven. This theory implies that there is no up and no down (The flat-out truth).

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Christopher Columbus faced rigid opposition when he brought out the idea of sailing West so that he could reach the East Indies. Columbus got into trouble with his crew, who thought the earth was flat. The crew was afraid that it might sail off the edge of the earth. Columbus believed the earth was flat. The others thought it was round. They thought they would sail off the edge and not be able to return. Columbus had to convince them through a beating that they were not falling off any edges and could sail right back. History justified man against the believers of flat earth (The myth of the flat earth).

It was later to be a shocking revelation that Columbus was wrong while his critics were right. This does not mean the world is flat. Rather, because every person believed the earth was a globe and was in the argument of its size. The size of the earth is what Columbus and his critics were in the argument of. The Greeks had earlier attempted to determine the size of the earth and, in fact, succeeded in working out various figures using different methods. Eratosthenes, who was the librarian of Alexandria, gave the circumference of the earth to be 250000 stadia which is an approximate 23000 miles. This was, however, given the benefit of the doubt. The figures were used to oppose Columbus’s idea of sailing west (The myth of the flat earth).

The world is flat

Thomas Friedman wrote a book entitled The World is Flat and argues on the issue of a flat world on a different level. He analyzes globalization in the 21st century. His argument is not based on the physical world but rather on the grounds of commerce. His flat world is an arena where every competitor in the world has an equal opportunity. The opinion shift requires that nations, organizations, and individuals be competitive at all times in the global market, where it is becoming clear that geographical and historical divisions are now becoming irrelevant.

Friedman bases his book on a journey he made to Bangalore in India (Friedman 5). It is there that he discovered that central economic concepts had been changed by globalization. His suggestion of a flat world is argued in the context that globalization is responsible for the leveling of competitive playgrounds for industrial and up-and-coming markets. The flattening, according to him, is the result of a coming together of the personal computer, which is the third phase of globalization. The first involved countries and governments, while the second had multinational companies playing the major role.

Friedman (134) uses a list of ten forces to illustrate the flattening of the world. These are called the ten flatteners. One of these is the collapse of the Berlin Wall in November of 1989. This marked the end of the cold war and allowed people and nations to join Berlin in the economic convention. For more than 25 years, the wall separated East and West Germany. West Germany had a social market economy, while East Germany had a planned economy.

The second flattener is Netscape which is in conjunction with Web expanded internet audience. It was used as a medium of communication by early geeks. Netscape made the internet accessible to people of all ages and cultures. The events of every day could be accessed by people all over the world by simply hooking up with a computer screen. Files have been shared, movies and pictures, and academic information besides world news (Friedman 135).

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Friedman’s third flattener is the Workflow software (135). This he calls the ability that machines have to communicate amongst themselves without the intervention of humans. The workflow, Netscape, and collapse of the Berlin Wall are the basic groundwork for a novel global platform that encourages collaboration.

In addition to these is open-sourcing (136). Different communities are now uploading and basically collaborating in various projects across the globe online. An example of open sourcing is Wikipedia and blogs on the internet. For Friedman, this is the most disruptive force.

Outsourcing is the other flattener (137). This, he says, has permitted companies and organizations to divide services and activities into units that can be delegated and executed effectively and efficiently.

More to this is offshoring (137). This involves relocating a company’s processes to another country so that the company can make use of less expensive operations that are available in that foreign country. An example is the entry of China into WTO. The move allowed for the competition, which now involves Mexico, Brazil, and Malaysia. They all attempt to have offshoring of business to them.

Supply chaining is the seventh world flattener (137). The contemporary retail supply chain is compared to a river by this scholar. Companies like Wal- Mart are using technological advancement to rationalize the sale of products, their distribution, and delivery.

Insourcing (Friedman 138) is the state where the employees of a company can perform operations for a different company. An example is the computer hardware companies. Any of them can repair the others hardware on behalf of that other company. The same services would be provided by the responsible company.

In-forming is illustrated in search engines like Google (138). While the internet makes it possible for people across the globe to share information, search engines bring so many people together and make it possible for them to get a lot of information on any topic and people without leaving their seats. Searches are increasing by the day.

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Steroids (138) are the last but not the least flattener developed by Friedman. These include personal digital devices such as mobile phones and iPods.

The world is not flat

From all arguments and observations, the world is becoming flat in close to all aspects. Nevertheless, Friedman is wrong to conclude that the world is flat. It might not be possible to determine the physical shape of the world, but globalization explains the flattening of the world. What Friedman attempts to do is illustrate the extent to which globalization has occurred in the world today. This has nothing to do with sailing off the edge or around the world. As Ghemawat supports, Friedman has in some way exaggerated the global trends of the world. Most of the phone calls made in the world are made locally. In addition, most investments and the traffic on the Web are all local operations. However, it is factual that the new world has information, ideas, and people moving at a faster pace than they did before, although this has not grown to overwhelming levels. While most of the calls might be local, one international call triggers a series of local calls that result in the sale of products in bulk.

Friedman’s flat world is connected by a highway that is slowly expanding. Global trade is carried out at several operation scales. The Web has hastened the process of flattening. There have evidently been spectacular changes in the global economy and scenery. To some extent, the world has become flatter than it was initially. People in all parts of the world are now more connected than history can remember.

Joseph Stiglitz, a Nobel Prize-winning economist, argues that, in fact, the world is becoming less flat. People are beginning to realize that there is potential in global incorporation. Globalization cannot be disputed, but it is taking some time. This is the reason the world is not flat yet. Arguing for this proposition is the fact that almost 90% of the world’s investment is still domestic. Foreign investment accounts for only 10% (Ghemawat).

In addition, while the flow of trade is growing, domestic trade is still higher in ratio than international trade. The ratio, for example, for the largest bilateral trade in the world, which is between Canada and the U.S., is still at 5:1.

On the other hand, the links made possible by the internet are increasing day after day. This is, however, obstructed by distance. The longer the distance, the weaker the internet links. This coupled with decreasing number of migrants over the years.


While it is true that, to some extent, globalization is setting new records, it has only been occurring in the recent past after having stagnated for a long time. Globalization has only been set in motion, but it is delicate and can easily be reversed. For this reason, it is wrong to assume that the world is flat. There are so many inequalities that dispute this postulation and the trend globalization takes only acts in favor of a somewhat flat world.


Friedman, Thomas. The World Is Flat: A Brief History of the Twenty-First Century, United States: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2005.

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Ghemawat, Pankaj. “Why the world isn’t flat. Growth Strategies”, 2007.

“The Flat-out Truth: Earth Orbits? Moon Landings? A Fraud!” Reprinted from Science Digest,1980.

“The myth of the flat earth.”

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