As the flow of information becomes a torrent it becomes difficult for any of us to discern what is really original thought. As an information addict myself it is almost impossible to separate what concepts I read last week from the opinions I formulate. I would suggest that this is true form most people as everyone I am familiar with seems to have built their work from the work of someone before them. This form of concept evolution dates back all the way to the very beginnings of time with the exceptions of those very rare “Eureka moments” that come along every so often.

The World is Flat by Thomas L. Friedman is one of those publications that makes me wonder if anything I believe about the coming future was ever original thought. I can honestly say I have never met Mr. Friedman (I would very much like to) and I haven’t read his book but I believe this man has hit the nail squarely on the head.

In this interview with Wired magazine Mr. Friedman outlines some of the premises of his book.

WIRED: What do you mean the world is flat?

FRIEDMAN: I was in India interviewing Nandan Nilekani at Infosys. And he said to me, “Tom, the playing field is being leveled.” Indians and Chinese were going to compete for work like never before, and Americans weren’t ready. I kept chewing over that phrase – the playing field is being leveled – and then it hit me: Holy mackerel, the world is becoming flat. Several technological and political forces have converged, and that has produced a global, Web-enabled playing field that allows for multiple forms of collaboration without regard to geography or distance – or soon, even language.

Wait a minute, did he just imply that the Internet is going to drastically change the way we live, work and interact? Damn, I’ve been screaming that to everyone who would listen for the last several years – most of the time to people who were either deaf or incapable of understanding.

Here’s another quote that strikes pretty close to home for me.

WIRED: The book is almost dizzily optimistic about India and China, about what flattening will bring to these parts of the world.

FRIEDMAN: I firmly believe that the next great breakthrough in bioscience could come from a 15-year-old who downloads the human genome in Egypt. Bill Gates has a nice line: He says, 20 years ago, would you rather have been a B-student in Poughkeepsie or a genius in Shanghai? Twenty years ago you’d rather be a B-student in Poughkeepsie. Today?

WIRED: Not even close.

FRIEDMAN: Not even close. You’d much prefer to be the genius in Shanghai because you can now export your talents anywhere in the world.

No kidding, there are no sacred jobs and any location in the world that has good connectivity is now equal to every other? Wouldn’t this also imply that there are rapidly becoming places in the world that are going to emerge as better places to live as the cost of living and the quality of life will be far superior to many of the top places we think of today?

From a purely economic standpoint, isn’t living in one of the high tech belts like Silicon Valley or Research Triangle a better location for a high tech employee than most rural locations? At this time, the answer is unequivocally yes but the times they are a changing.

If there was one way of summing up what these changes might mean to us, how about this one simple quote provided as a response to the interviewer’s question.

WIRED:You quote a CEO who says that Americans have grown addicted to their high salaries, and now they’re going to have to earn them. Are Americans suffering from an undue sense of entitlement?

FRIEDMAN: Somebody said to me the other day that – I wish I had this for the book, but it’s going to be in the paperback – the entitlement we need to get rid of is our sense of entitlement.

The ramifications of what this may mean is nothing short of staggering.

I know I can count on the rhetoric spewing parrots asking if I am screaming “The sky is falling.” again. (Funny how that same phrase gets repeated time and time again. You would think there might be some original thought to the opposing side of the discussion but I suppose that would lend credence to the thought there was any thought being placed into this issue.) In all fairness, this does relate back to the opening statement I wrote indicating that I have difficulty in differentiating between what I read in the past and my own original thought.

Will things change as we move into the future? We all know that no matter how hard we fight to prevent it there will be change. Can anyone accurately predict what those changes will be and what the real impact will be? No, I do not think so. We can certainly speculate, read what information is provided to us and draw the logical conclusions as best we can but the reality is there are too many unknowns that can throw off the equation. We cannot predict what inventions and innovations will become commonplace and what the real effect of them might be. We do not know what ideas some 15 year old kid living in some unheard of location will introduce to us that will radicalize the way things are thought of or done.

We do know things will change. We do know we have to adapt with them and we will either adapt or fight fruitlessly against the tide.

My grandmother wouldn’t put a telephone into the house for a number of years when they were first introduced. My wife’s grandmother will not allow a computer into their home. I believe the very same parallel exists with many people as far as the adoption of the Internet and especially broadband service.

But even with this resistance, the telephone and computer have caught on as will broadband. How fast we accept these changes and leverage all that they can provide will dictate what will happen to us in the near term.

One thing I find amusing in a never-ending way, the more things change the more we can see the same classical reactions happening. One has to wonder if humanity ever learns, if we really progress or if it is only a small percentage of us that move forward and the rest die off.

The terms “cutting edge,” “leading edge.” bleeding edge,” and “early adopters” are used to label us – terms that are more often used as insults than anything else. It is these people, the technology risk takers, the few of us that are willing to set sail in their obsolete wind driven ships looking for a new world that drag the rest of us along with them. These are the people we should be treasuring but instead we only pay them the homage they are due when they are old or perhaps dead.

Do we learn?

I don’t know, ask me sometime in the future and I will tell you with some certainty how we did.

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