The first three chapters of Thomas L. Friedman’s book, The World is Flat (2007), presents the economic, political and cultural impacts of the emergence of the personal computers with greater, faster, more networked computing capacities, and the emergence of the internet. The first three chapters highlight the impact of this emergence on globalization, mobility of job and job security, and greater capacity of talent than geography to determine someone’s fate. Friedman’s analysis is meant to challenge governments (primarily his American government), industries and societies to invest more and pay more attention to research and technology. Friedman, in chapter 2, presents the emergence of technology as a force that is encouraging the flattening of technology and opportunities.
Richard Florida in “The World Is Spiky” (2005) contends that the emergence of technology and the internet is encouraging the flattening of the world. Instead, for him, it is creating more differences. He demonstrates that the emergence of contemporary technologies are causing technologically advantaged parts of the world to grow into mountains/spikes, and leaving the technologically disadvantaged behind. Moreover, there is aggregation to the few technologically advanced centers, at the expense of the rest of the world.
Just around the turn of the millennium, during my undergraduate studies, one of our greatest criticisms of the Internet was that it was largely controlled by the few. The information superhighway was largely one directional. This reflects Florida’s (2005) concerns. Today, the case is changing. Like Friedman observed, more and more people are accessing the Internet and its related technologies, consuming and producing contents for the web that is for a more global audience. These technologies are making communication cheaper, more accessible and reducing the power of geography to define one’s fate. Technology is making work faster and more efficient. Furthermore, it is helping bridge educational gaps since more and more people can have access to good education for free or at more affordable costs in whatever part of the globe they reside. Furthermore, it is humbling us to realize that no one has the monopoly of knowledge. Educationists in this old vocation, are learning, for the better, that at the heart of learning is being part of a learning community and that no one has the totality of knowledge. And, one of the best skills to teach students is the skill to seek, identify the information they need, and to network with others to use these information collaboratively to solve the problems they face personally or in their work place.
Richard Florida’s views is relevant because technology may have succeeded in bridging information and socio-cultural gaps, but it has not been as successful in bridging economic gaps and leveling demographic gaps in the world. This is a relevant and pertinent concern that cannot be glossed over. The difference in perspectives between Friedman (2007) and Florida (2005) seems to be because Friedman was looking at these technologies with the interest of his country, the United States, while Florida was looking at these technologies with a more global concern.
Nick Bostrom (2015) cautions us to be careful and discerning in the technology we create. This is because, in the near future, artificial intelligence may overtake humans in capacity. It becomes necessary for the survival of our specie to see that the artificial intelligence in our technologies are taught or injected with the capacity to learn and understand the values we humans, cherish. This caution is important one as the use of technology today continue to generate several ethical concerns like privacy, bullying, work ethics, etc. These need to be attended to and not glossed over.
The foregoing reminds us that the Internet and the emerging communication technologies are powerful forces that shape life, culture, economies and societies in ways that we may find difficult to predict. Some of the impacts of these changes are advantageous, others are not. It becomes important that a deliberate effort is made to guide these impacts towards paths that do not destroy what humans cherish the most. For instance, technology and the Internet cannot be allowed to continue to create the huge economic gaps it is encouraging without deliberate effort to correct this anomaly.
Bostrom, N. (2015, March). TED: What happens when our computers get smarter than we are? Retrieved from https://www.ted.com/talks/nick_bostrom_what_happens_when_our_computers_get _smarter_than_we_are
Florida, R. (2005). The world is spiky: Globalization has changed the economic playing field, but hasn’t leveled it. Atlantic Monthly, 296(3), 48.
Friedman, T. L. (2007). The world is flat: A brief history of the twenty-first century. [Kindle version]. Retrieved from Amazon.com