I recently had the opportunity to view some top-secret NASA images taken from one of our spy satellites up in geosynchronous orbit 22,000 miles above the Earth. The photos, not yet publicly made available, offer astonishing visual proof that everything we've been hearing for the past year or so has been a lie. Exactly why this cover-up has occurred, I'm not at liberty to say, but in my role as a member of the fourth estate, I simply cannot allow this conspiracy of disinformation to continue.
In short, here's the unvarnished truth: The world is not flat.
Some of you, I suspect, have known all along that the world is round. Even Thomas Friedman, who popularized the "flat world" theory, admits towards the end of his best-selling book The World Is Flat that the world, in fact, is not flat. However, most analysts and commentators typically never get past the section of Friedman's book that focuses on 10 forces that " flattened the world," and thus the notion of a flat world has taken hold of the public consciousness and refuses to let go. Nevertheless, in addition to the NASA photos, there is plenty of other evidence that the "flat world" Friedman envisions is largely a myth.
For instance, Friedman singles out the fall of the Berlin Wall as an alleged "flattener" because that event supposedly allowed people to see the world differently, to "tap into one another's knowledge pools." I don't know what world Friedman is looking at, but in the world I'm living in, politicians are currently proposing the construction of a physical border — a "wall," if you will — along the U.S.-Mexico border, with the express purpose of preventing the unchecked spread of populations from one country to another. Doesn't sound very flat to me.
Friedman cites the Google search engine as another "flattener" because the company claims it wants everyone in the world to have access to all of the world's knowledge, in every language. In the months since Friedman's book was published, however, we've learned that "everyone in the world" doesn't include the billion or so Chinese that Google has decided don't really need to see everything... just the stuff the Chinese government deems acceptable. In fact, this censorship doctrine has been termed the Great Firewall of China, and offers yet more evidence that the world's shape is as round as ever.
Friedman gets especially giddy when he rhapsodizes about China's drive to succeed, going so far as to quote Microsoft's Bill Gates, who once said (apparently without irony), "I would rather be a genius born in China than an average guy born in Poughkeepsie." Gates, we must assume, was taking it for granted that he would still have been born a male child; had the condition been stipulated that Gates would be born a female in China, he might have given a very different answer.
Friedman writes with passion about a world without borders, ruled by innovation and efficiency rather than parochial self interests. It's a wonderful idea, but it remains largely that — just an idea, not a reality. The round world we live in has a U.S. Congress currently debating the idea of imposing additional restrictions on foreign investment in the United States. The overreaction to Dubai Ports World's attempts to purchase terminals at some U.S.-based ports exposed an environment of suspicion and political grandstanding, not a "flat world" openness to any country with deep pockets and a well written business plan.
In fact, Friedman himself seems to be backing off the "flat world" idea, writing recently in the New York Times about a "terrible trend emerging in the world today... a widespread religious and sectarian cleavage." It is critical, he notes, that the U.S. stands by its principles of free trade and "welcoming the world to do business in our land, as long as there is no security threat. If we start exporting fear instead of hope, we are going to import everyone else's fears right back."
Ultimately, the flat-landers believe that technology is the great enabler — that the Internet and collaborative software and open sourcing and cell phones will transform the world by offering every person on the Earth equal access to the same opportunities. I would suggest that collaborative technologies in and of themselves are worthless if you don't have at least two parties — whether they be individuals, supply chain partners, or countries — who have agreed to collaborate. If we've learned anything lately, it's that as technology allows information to be more readily available, it becomes increasingly important that the information comes from a trusted source.
While I find the "flat world" concept fascinating, I see far too much evidence that we're still living in a round world after all.