The World is Flat by Thomas FriedmanThomas Friedman’s book The World is Flat is an interesting look at how, according to the author, technology has “flattened” the world and opened up the connections that people can make. It looks at the leveling of the playing field in business, education, and overall life, and offers ideas on how to deal with the competition that has been created now that parts of the world that once were isolated are now in the thick of globalization. Friedman points out the constant, upward swing that is being achieved by people in China, India, and other parts of the world, and the slumbering position of many Americans in the process. While young people in China and India are working hard to stake their claims in the tech driven world, young people in the United States are seemingly focused on sports, video games, and television.

Although the situation is not simply that cut and dry, Friedman does illustrate the crisis that continues to grow for those who are seemingly oblivious to this flattening effect as the world changes and becomes more connected. Friedman’s challenge is that Americans wake up to the task at hand and make sure young people are prepared for this new world that is being created whether one notices the changes or not! Science and engineering are two areas that Friedman identifies as in great need of attention, but identifies current decisions that shy away from a focus on these fields. Friedman points out that the tools (especially technology) exist for most people to take part in this collaborative process, and that it is not too late to make it in this “flat world.”

On a personal note I will share the flattening effects in my world that Friedman may have not had an opportunity to see or recognize. I grew up on a ranch that was homesteaded by my great-grandfather in the late 1800s. I watched the world flatten in the dairy barn as milk cans sitting in a water tank and loaded by hand onto a truck were replaced with the installation of a bulk tank that could be connected via a hose to the milk truck. I sat in sales offices as new tractors and equipment were purchased that increased the productivity of the ranch. I witnessed beef cattle go from short, fat, and stocky to tall, lean, and efficient animals. I sat on tractors and put up hay, cleaned out barns and sheds, raised cattle to show at the county and state fairs, spent time outside with my family working together, witnessed nature in its fullest form, and lived a life that is slowly passing into history that some would label legend.

The RanchFriedman mentions farmers in the context of needing to become environmentally responsible. What farmers is he talking to? Huge, corporate farms that are “flourishing” and “creating,” as opposed to growing, food in this flat world? The few family farms that are left where I grew up have always been environmentally responsible; however, those days are coming to an end as these properties (open spaces) are being sold to make way for housing developments. These developments are not for the so called middle class, but are retreats for the wealthy. This is the flat world I see where I come from.

My dream was to take over the ranch of my forefathers. Was it the flat world that took that dream away? In part I believe it did. Friedman speaks of the need to adapt and change to meet the challenges of this flat world. Despite my deep down desire to work the land I met resistance in that I was encouraged to get an education, a degree. This is not necessarily a bad thing! I did, and became an educator. My thoughts were this will allow for an opportunity to get back to my roots with skills I can use elsewhere while working the land. Not so, with the demands of one career, education, the other could not be. Why? Because I have a firm belief that you must focus on your job at hand. My job was to educate the youth of my community with all the passion and focus that I felt was expected by the community.

In the meantime, the world was flattening. As it flattened I added to my skill set by studying and earning a master’s degree in instructional technology to keep pace with the changes. It became so flat that the land of my forefathers gained value. Not value in the agricultural sense, but value in the fact that it was an open space. Now an open space that will be filled, defeating its beauty and attractiveness. Nevertheless, it was inevitable in this so called flat world. It is a world based on economic gain, in part based on greed, but also based on survival.

Draft HorsesThe generation that sold the homestead was the generation that is most affected by this flat world. A world that is passing many people by because they do not have the time to revamp and reload to keep pace; however, in the end it is my generation that is now required to compete on a global level and actually seems to have had to let the legacy all go by the wayside. To an extent my generation’s hands are tied by economic trends that out price land and under value human skills and competencies.

Then, what about my children? What type of world are we creating for them? If my future is so uncertain in a competitive, globalized, flat world, I am quite concerned about what we are creating or leaving for them. Yes, they will have to work hard to compete, to become educated, to become flexible, to prepare for and adapt to change, but what legacy is left for them?

In 1993, my wife and I took her grandfather back to where he had grown up on his father’s homestead in Platte, South Dakota. The farm had been sold many years before but much of what he and his family had constructed via blood, sweat, and tears remained; although, in a deteriorating state of existence. As I filmed him describing the various buildings and as he reminisced about those days gone by I was shaken by the reality that this would be me someday, standing where I grew up, on property now owned by someone else, describing a way of life that was gone for me and my posterity too. That is what a flat world is to me. Flat and void of any opportunity to carry on tradition, working the land, spending time outdoors, working together as a family.

The ChildrenThese opportunities have been disappearing for many years now. Being able to get sushi, or a latte anywhere, anytime, and as fast as possible has become the mark of advancement, progress, and social satisfaction. To me, this is not progress and to a certain extent it is repulsive. Progress is in the eye of the beholder, and there are some things worth saving. Why are we giving legacies away or selling them? I think because of the attitudes that the world is flat and it is viewed as a game as to who can gain, amass, and capture wealth. Those who sell the legacy are often caught up in other people’s activities in that game, and those other people do not care about the legacy. These “opportunists” are only concerned about taking advantage of people in this flat world and the cash that is gained in the process with no thought of the prospective expense to a progeny.

In geographic terms relief is how high and rugged or low and flat a place is. High relief is steep, low relief is flat. Relief in other terms is freedom from anxiety or distress; so, could we say low relief or a flat world brings high anxiety and much distress? I think there may be something to that. Taking advantage of something or someone isn’t always a good thing and often results in anxiety and stress: low relief to many for sure! This flat world, that I think has some truth to it, is literally flattening ways of life that have intrinsic value. Value that is lost once it is flattened, sold, replaced, globalized, and “economized.” Now, I will move on and continue to take my place in this flat world as a competitor, trying to survive, and I guess win, but what is the prize? I don’t like sushi and don’t drink latte! To this point, that is my flat world. What is yours?

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