Author: Thomas Friedman
Thank You for Being Late: An Optimist’s Guide to Thriving in the Age of Accelerations Thomas Friedman 2016
Pause for reflection (Thank You for Being Late)
Thank You for Being Late: The catchy headline “Thank you for being late” seems absurd in our world, where every second counts. However, it was the expectation of interlocutors, stuck in traffic or forced to change schedules due to family matters, that gave the idea for this book to veteran journalist Thomas Friedman: in an age of increasing speed, thinking is especially valuable, and every free minute can bring greater awareness and useful discoveries.
The author calls himself an explanatory journalist and says that he has been translating “from English into English” all his life, explaining in simple terms the essence of complex phenomena. In Thank You for Being Late, he shares his perspective on the modern age, which is undergoing changes comparable to the invention of printing. Today’s transformations not only affect all layers of life – from biological to social and geopolitical – but also occur at a speed never seen before. Human nature is not designed for such speeds – but subtitled “The Optimist’s Guide to Prosperity in the Age of Acceleration,” the book outlines ideas that the author believes will help capitalize on the hurricane of change and put it at the service of society and the planet.
Thomas Friedman is sure that today, more than ever, the words of the great physicist Marie Curie are true: “In life, there is nothing to be afraid of – there is only what needs to be understood. Today we understand more than before, which means we are less afraid.” However, in order to realize what is happening, you need to do one very important thing: stop and think.
Together with the author, the reader gets the opportunity to draw a portrait of a modern civilization that develops incredibly complex and subtle technologies, but brings more and more damage to its native planet and succumbs to the postulates of humanism and common sense in the political sphere. Thomas Friedman offers his recipe for human prosperity in an era of change. Will you like it? not necessary. But you will certainly appreciate the approach to the problem and, quite possibly, today you will say to a late friend: “Thank you for being late. I spent these minutes in very fruitful reflections.
In the end, there’s a little bonus waiting for you — tips for creating compelling and memorable writing from a regular New York Times columnist and three-time Pulitzer Prize winner.
Supernova explosion: year 2007
Just listing all the technology projects that took off in 2007 can make your head spin.
Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Airbnb, Kindle, the Android operating system, the first iPhone – can you remember a world that didn’t have them? For techies, here are a few more: Hadoop, GitHub, the first platform of Palantir Technologies, the first multi-core processors for desktop systems, the first chips with a high-k dielectric component, the start of construction of the Watson supercomputer equipped with a question-answer system of artificial intelligence.
2007 marks the beginning of exponential growth in solar and wind energy, biofuel development, LED lighting, energy-efficient construction, and the creation of electric motors for cars. At the same time, there was a sharp reduction in the cost of DNA analysis technologies, which gave impetus to the development of biotechnology.
At the same time, a real revolution began in the field of information storage and processing – new devices and platforms appeared, and the production of various and more advanced sensors has increased dramatically, which allows automating of routine processes in various industries and creating the “Internet of Things”. The real breakthrough was the ability to improve the performance of devices by improving not their physical characteristics, but the “smart stuffing” – software.
An unprecedented technological breakthrough in 2007 was due to the appearance of the first mass device with access to the World Wide Web – the iPhone. The demand for Internet traffic in the United States from January 2007 to December 2014, according to AT&T, grew by more than 100,000 percent! The era of instant communications, Internet commerce, and big data has begun. What seemed unheard of yesterday has become the norm, and since then, technical innovations have become more and more simple and user-friendly.
The ubiquitous availability of computers and the constant increase in their productivity, according to Thomas Friedman, are the main engine of all technological and information processes – what he calls the Machine.
In 1965, one of the founders of Intel, Gordon Moore, discovered a pattern that eventually became known as “Moore’s law”: the power of computing devices doubles every 24 months. In 2007, this law was on the verge of collapse, but with the advent of a new generation of processors, exponential growth continued, and today Moore himself believes that the limit of growth will come in a few generations and only because of the atomic nature of matter and the speed limit of light.Thank You for Being Late
Mobile communications and broadband Internet technologies have also been developing in accordance with Moore’s law over the past 20 years. Today, we are getting closer to the fact that the transmission of an unlimited amount of data over infinitely long distances will become completely free.
Intel engineers have calculated that if cars progressed according to Moore’s Law (i.e., the same way microprocessors and data transmission did), the modern Volkswagen Beetle would reach speeds of 300,000 miles per hour, travel 2 million miles on one gallon of gas, and would cost 4 cents.Thank You for Being Late
The planet is surrounded by a huge information cloud that stores huge amounts of data and creates conditions for the accelerated development of technologies. This cloud, Friedman is sure, should not be called such an amorphous word – powerful energy is accumulated in it. The author of the book gives the world information space a name – “supernova”.
Technology, nature, and markets
The speed of development of computer technology is such that its influence extends to both Mother Nature and the Market.
By the term “Market” the author means a complex set of commercial, financial, and social relations, media, banking, and educational institutions, which, with the help and influence of knowledge and technology flows, are becoming increasingly interconnected and interdependent.
“Mother Nature” is suffering from the rapid growth of human civilization because the load on the biosphere is growing faster than it can adapt: retribution comes in the form of climate change and the extinction of entire species.
The modern world is not just accelerating – it is rapidly changing at all levels. We perceive novelties faster than our ancestors, but a certain cultural and psychological inertia persists. The flood of new information surpasses the human ability to process it, and even experts find it difficult to predict the direction of progress in their fields.
Eric “Astro” Teller, head of innovation at Google X, explains: “By 1900, it took about 20 to 30 years to launch a technology that would greatly change the world (think airplanes and cars, for example). By 2016, the cycle from the premiere to the introduction of the product was reduced to 5–7 years, but it takes 10–15 years to master a new person.”Thank You for Being Late
Physical and social technologies are closely related: by handing each of us a pocket supercomputer, engineers gave people an unprecedented level of access to knowledge and communications, ensured the growth of educational technologies, and the opportunity to communicate with like-minded people on the other side of the planet. In turn, the implementation of new technologies depends on the minds and hands of people who work on different continents: every modern device is a product of global cooperation.
However, technology advances at a pace that inevitably comes into conflict with our ability to organize effective systems of education, management, laws, and social norms that would help people alleviate the stresses of constant change.
The answer to technological change must be improved social adaptability, which means, above all, the ability to constantly learn and maintain dynamic balance (much like when riding a bicycle).
The main value today is not land, as it was in the Middle Ages, and not the means of production, as at the dawn of the industrial revolution. These days, the most important intangible assets are methods, developments, software, and patents. To succeed, you need to learn how to constantly update your stocks of knowledge by connecting to global information flows.
The author interprets globalization not just as a global system of trade in goods, finances, and services, but as an opportunity for every person and company to represent themselves, compete and cooperate in the global market. In this sense, globalization is experiencing a meteoric rise today. “More than ever, we rise and fall together,” writes Thomas Friedman.
Streams of information envelop the entire globe and expand the opportunities for everyone to participate. E-commerce is growing at an incredible pace and is already moving from the usual online stores to the level of instant messengers in social networks.
More than half of the traffic of resources like The Guardian, Vogue or the BBC comes from users from abroad, while Netflix is watched by viewers in 190 countries around the world.Thank You for Being Late
Competition has also become global, with a growing generation of young people in developing countries learning information technology on extremely cheap devices donated by charities or designed specifically for impoverished markets.
The price of the Aakash tablet, created for India, is $2-3.Thank You for Being Late
These guys are determined to succeed in life, benefiting themselves and their homeland, and their competition with young people from developed countries will only intensify. The race is won by those who are better educated, able to constantly learn, manage processes and build infrastructure – and this applies to individuals, companies, and entire countries.
Instantaneous reaction speeds make our world extremely interdependent: American markets instantly respond to fluctuations in Chinese stock exchanges, and not minutes, but fractions of seconds play a role in high-frequency trading. Blockchain technologies form a new level of trust among all participants in global trade.
The expansion of the global network of contacts is melting the iceberg of prejudices that permeate traditional thinking and are rooted in the cultures of different peoples. The larger the social circle, the higher the chances of meeting a citizen of a hostile country, a person with different skin color, or a different sexual orientation – and make sure that the differences between you are not so serious.
This trend goes hand in hand with rising tensions over migration. When people feel a threat to their home and way of life, tolerance drops sharply.
At the same time, the behavior of people in the virtual space gives hope that the right balance between maintaining one’s own boundaries and trusting strangers will be found.
In today’s world, at least half of Facebook users have friends in other countries, and often they are from countries that are officially considered unfriendly.Thank You for Being Late
The power of digital technologies helps to find like-minded people even with the most exotic hobbies – and this, on the one hand, creates the broadest opportunities for cooperation and human communication, and on the other hand, increases the risks, because these tools are available not only to people of goodwill, but also to those whose goal is destabilization, profit, and violence.
Charities working in the world’s poorest countries are already actively using high-tech tools. Cheap mobile communications allow people in distress to ask for support – and today it is already difficult to imagine that until quite recently it was almost more difficult to learn about a disaster than to provide assistance. This is an inspiring example of how technology serves humanitarian purposes.
However, the main lesson is that even in the age of information technology dominance, personal contacts remain the most valuable, which forms a level of trust that is impossible with remote interaction.
In the hands of modern man there are amazingly powerful means of communication, but never before has the feeling of individual isolation been so strong.
It is live human communication that should become that “quiet island” in the center of a raging technological typhoon that will help people save themselves in an era of change.
Environmental issues – such as deforestation, global warming, population growth, ocean pollution, and species extinction – the author calls “black elephants”. They are as huge and obvious as they are invisible in everyday communication. Simply put, they are not customary to discuss, although no one doubts their danger.
The last 12 thousand years on Earth have passed under the sign of the Holocene – the era of ecological balance, to which humanity owes its survival and development. All this time, Mother Nature has successfully adapted to changing conditions and mitigate the negative effects of interference in her environment. Today, however, there are too many changes, and they are too dramatic. Rapid technological growth increases the impact on the environment. Increasingly, natural hazards are described with the words “unseen”, “incredible” and “unprecedented”.
Mother Nature is no longer able to cope with the pressure that has fallen upon her with the start of the industrial revolution and has been growing especially rapidly since the 1950s. The Garden of Eden of the Holocene, in which mankind was born and grew up, in the conditions of which civilization was born, is now under the threat of extinction.
It’s time to remember that the Earth is a stone flying in space, which is covered with a thin layer of fertile soil. We owe this layer to the life of plants and animals, including humans – and yet its thickness in the most abundant regions does not exceed one and a half meters. Never before in history has humanity been so close to losing the support of its Mother Nature. If we fail to save the planet, the whole structure of our life will be in jeopardy.
Thomas Friedman lists the areas of environmental threats for which humanity has already gone beyond the critical values. This is:
- global warming and melting of glaciers under the influence of CO emissions?;
- biodiversity loss;
- soil contamination with chemicals.
There are also areas in which the situation is not so critical yet, but there is very little left to the border of the norm. This is:
- acidification of the oceans (change in pH as a result of carbon monoxide emissions into the atmosphere);
- use of freshwater;
- aerosol pollution of the atmosphere;
- development of new chemical compounds and materials;
- thinning of the ozone layer.
We are responsible for our planet and must focus on developing new models of energy conservation and environmental management that will help preserve the state of the Holocene. This requires both technology, the collective will of the population of the Earth, and reasonable management because what we do today determines our tomorrow.
The political Holocene, that is, the time of balance of power, the author calls the period of the Cold War, when most states were conditionally divided between two centers of power – the USA and the USSR. The heads of the two blocks managed the development of their camps, supplying them with resources and freeing them from the cost of defense and the need to build an independent policy. With the destruction of the Berlin Wall, the political Holocene ended: the newly independent states were left face to face with their economic and political tasks. The rise of China’s influence and the surge in Africa’s population is adding to tensions as they come amid growing problems of hunger, pollution, and political instability.
America’s attempts to bring its political culture to the countries of the Middle East and Africa fail one after another. “Color revolutions” end in the collapse of hopes – and digital technology plays a significant role in this: social media works great when it is necessary to mobilize people to destroy the existing system, but interferes with the long and thoughtful work to create a new one.
The readiness of social networks to perceive, exaggerate, distort and disseminate information about politicians, their statements and alliances undermines consensus building in countries where there has been a regime change.Thank You for Being Late
The face of terrorism has changed: today the organized networks that the secret services were able to fight were replaced by loners scattered around the globe, who skillfully use modern technologies and are almost impossible to trace. Their activities undermine stability and confidence on a global scale. And military power is no longer the main resource, as it used to be, but only one of the factors of competition, even power.
We are on the verge of a new global redistribution of the market: if in the last 25 years the economies of the manufacturing countries (with the lowest cost of production) have grown the fastest, in the next 25 years growth will intensify where they know how to invent new things and develop technologies. This trend also leads to socio-political tensions within countries and on the world stage. Countries whose economies depend on commodity prices have an interest in maintaining tensions, local conflicts, and anything that harms the accelerated growth of technologically advanced competitors.
We live in a post-industrial world, where even the most powerful players have already realized that by occupying a country, you get nothing but an astronomical bill. It is much easier to beat competitors by using their human and natural resources to your advantage.Thank You for Being Late
It is extremely difficult to create political stability. To do this, you need to find the perfect balance of many tools: invest in the economies of weak countries where refugees come from, curb the appetites of the superpowers, and continue to develop online technologies that will help equalize the opportunities for the fulfilling personal potential for people from different parts of the globe.
In their political technologies, Thomas Friedman is sure, people should learn from Mother Nature, who has nurtured ecosystems for millions of years, based on the principles of gradual improvement, continuous learning, support for diversity, development of small communities rooted in their native soil, rational use of resources, slowness, flexibility, enterprise and interdependence of all components of the natural system.
Culture is the tool that will help transform the principles of Mother Nature into concrete social mechanisms and ensure the success of a society based on the principles of humanism, pluralism, and mutual respect.
Answering the question about God and the degree of his responsibility for everything that happens today on the planet, Friedman offers the reader a “post-biblical view” on this problem. Today, God does not determine the actions of man but is only present in his deeds and thoughts. Acting in accordance with the commandments, a person becomes a conductor of God’s will. If the actions diverge from the principles of high morality, then there is no God with man. “Answering the question of whether there is a God in cyberspace, I will say: no, but He would like to be there. And only we can bring it there – through our actions,” writes Thomas Friedman.
Silent eye of the storm
Innovation is not only affecting smartphones and computers – it is transforming politics and geopolitics, work and communication, ethics and tastes. Robots are already occupying our jobs, finding a job without using a computer is unrealistic, and the main quality of a sought-after specialist is the ability to continuously learn.
30% of people working in American companies today would not be interviewed for the positions they were accepted for, because the requirements for candidates are growing all the time. As Presidential adviser Warren Bennis once said, “The factory of the future will have only two employees: a man and a dog. The person will feed the dog, and the dog will make sure that the person does not touch the equipment.”Thank You for Being Late
Yes, all these changes are happening too fast. And the only thing we can do about this hurricane is find a quiet eye at its center and make our lives there. Thomas Friedman believes that the most important thing today is to choose a direction in which people cannot be replaced by machines, and to build education systems so that people can learn how to interact with machines and control technology throughout their lives. Successful competition in the labor market requires all the best competencies in the three Rs and four Cs:Thank You for Being Late
– Reading, wRiting, aRithmetic;Thank You for Being Late
– Creativity, Collaboration, Communication, Coding.Thank You for Being Late
In addition, a high level of self-motivation, psychological stability, readiness for constant learning, entrepreneurial spirit and the ability to improvise are required.Thank You for Being Late
In the modern world, the challenge is to build a bridge from artificial intelligence to humans, and this bridge will be built by the “intellectual support” system (AI <-> IA), which will help companies and the state create platforms for continuous learning and a comfortable job search that best suits the abilities of the individual. The IA system, therefore, will help people find themselves in a changing world, and business and government – to effectively solve the personnel problem. After all, life has already shown that freeing people from work that machines can handle leads to the creation of many new jobs that require more intellectual activity.
Elements of IA systems already exist – these are distance learning resources, the most famous of them is Khan Academy. Platforms for contacting employers and searching for vacancies are also developing: for example, LinkedIn makes it possible to assess what qualities are most in-demand in the labor market in a particular region. An area that cannot be robotized, digitized, and outsourced is training people to adapt to the new requirements of the labor market, interact with machines, and mutual support.
For this training to be effective, it is necessary to change the attitude towards competencies at all levels: companies must be ready to continuously train employees, educational institutions – to provide services not only to students, but also to working professionals, and the state to create economic conditions for these changes by improving the tax system and developing partnerships with businesses and communities.
The author is convinced that the development of social technologies that will help people get used to the growing demands of the labor market should take place at the micro-level – not in states, but in local communities… He sees numerous examples of such success in the United States, where the federal system leaves enough freedom for self-organization at the level of cities, districts, and towns. The social institutions that exist there are changing under the influence of the daily needs of people: schools become centers of education and mutual support for all generations; parks, sports, cultural facilities, and other public spaces serve to strengthen human ties and social and psychological adaptation. The community helps people to feel supported and remain economically active, builds trust, and forces companies interested in developing business in the area to seek compromise with residents.
The type of innovation most needed today is the development of social technologies that lag behind physical technologies. The surest way to start developing social technologies is to involve the maximum number of people in healthy communities, says Thomas Friedman.
A healthy city, town, or community will be the most important governing element in the 21st century. The last part of the book is devoted to a detailed description of a healthy community, located in the suburbs of Minneapolis, called St. Louis Park. This town was settled in the 1950s by Jewish families who left the metropolis due to ethnic oppression. Many bright people have grown up in this community, including the author himself and the famous film director, the Coen brothers. Built on the principles of mutual support, with a strong belief in the value of education, the St. Louis Park community has been able to maintain a special spirit of self-reliance, freedom, and the pursuit of a decent life, which helps newcomers from different races and social classes to adapt to it. This character, based on the common values of all neighbors, has become a concern of the community, it sets the direction for all social projects implemented in St. Louis Park,
“Our task,” Thomas Friedman insists, “is to tell our children a different story. Parents and politicians, teachers and spiritual leaders, neighbors, and friends should participate in its creation. And this story is not naive, but strategic. Both the strong and the weak must learn to compromise for the sake of the future of humanity.”
Pause and think about what has been said. It’s okay if this makes you a little late somewhere.
Some advice for those who write
Teaching blogging to a new acquaintance, Thomas Friedman formulated the principles that have been helping him for 40 years in his work on columns for The New York Times, making texts memorable and vivid. Here is his advice to anyone who writes to get their point across.
- Don’t just inform, but provoke. Sharpen the thought so that it touches the reader to the quick.
- Offer a non-standard look, a new angle, an unusual twist; Any impression can be a source of inspiration – from observing nature to reading a book.
- To be interesting to the reader, you need to have your own opinion and broadcast your values - then you will not have a problem with the choice of topics and with reader interest (“what comes from the heart, reaches the heart”).
- Sometimes it’s okay to change your views, but being indifferent, writing only about pleasant things, or agreeing with everything in the world is a dead end.
- Go outside the box and look at problems from different perspectives (“the only valuable kind of thinking is thinking without rigid limits”).
- Good writing has three components: your values, priorities, and inspiration; your knowledge of the forces that affect the world and people; and your understanding of how people and cultures respond to these forces.
- Constantly learn and take an active interest in the world around you (“the wider your aperture, the more perspectives you see”).
10 main thoughts
1. The appearance of the world’s first smartphone with access to the Internet in 2007 was the impetus for the rapid development of information technology.
2. The accelerated development of information technology is taking place simultaneously with the intensification of globalization and the growing pressure on the environment.
3. The rapid growth of physical technologies helps to develop social technologies, but a person is not adapted to such a rapid adaptation to the new and often feels confused.
4. Technogenic impact on nature is increasing with the development of technology: climate change, melting glaciers, deforestation, soil pollution and extinction of species indicate that the line has already been crossed, beyond which nature cannot recover on its own.
5. Global politics is changing under the influence of technological development : processes of destabilization are accelerating, and the danger of terrorism is growing. The prospect of a new division of labor (the advantage will not be with those countries that can produce goods cheaply, but with leaders in innovation) deepens conflicts between states.
6. Information technologies make the world closer and more interdependent. Opportunities for communication, education, and cooperation are expanding, while the tension of competition and the feeling of individual isolation is growing.
7. Intangible assets have the greatest value today: developments, methods, patents.
8. The main competitive advantage in the labor market in the modern world is the ability to constantly learn, collaborate and find non-trivial solutions.
9. The basis of human well-being in the 21st century is a sense of belonging and the ability to realize one’s potential in an economically and socially demanded form. The key to these factors is a healthy community that can create the right conditions.
10. People can make their lives meaningful and valuable in an era of accelerating change if they learn to find a quiet place in the “eye of the technological hurricane” and develop social technologies.