During a C-SPAN interview, Thomas Friedman said, “Thank You for Being Late” is about “pausing, reflecting and the need for connection. It is about practicing the Golden Rule.” To that I would add it is primarily a book about change.
Changes in technology, culture, climate, politics and globalization have been happening at breakneck speed throughout the last decade. Friedman begins his summary of the exponential increase in change in 2007, the year the iPhone, Android, YouTube, Kindle and IBM’s Watson were introduced. He then discusses three “accelerators” of change that have been at work since then: computer-related technology, globalization and climate change and observes how these accelerators are shaping our world for good or ill.
The author discusses the first key force of change: technology, at great length. He cites and explains Moore’s Law which states that the speed of processors doubles every 18 to 24 months, at decreasing costs of production. This has made possible the development of more and more software, a rapid increase in networking and the convergence of smart phones and computers. He calls this dizzying processing activity the “supernova” or “flow” that makes possible the storage of massive amounts of information on “the cloud.”
The second accelerator he describes is the expanding global market for this technology whose “flow” makes possible worldwide collaboration among doctors, scientists, financiers and others. Likewise, online courses are now available to anyone in the world with an Internet connection. The downside of this force is that it allows for the export of propaganda and threats from terrorist cells that can operate from multiple locations.
The third accelerating force, climate change, is causing the loss of species of flora and fauna and other environmental changes that are altering the surface of Earth. Friedman notes the dangers of breaching ecological limits, killing biodiversity, deforestation, ocean acidification and nuclear waste and provides a plethora of examples.
He warns those persons just beginning to work that they will have to prove themselves to be very adaptable to change, have the passion for lifelong learning, and acquire the skills to market themselves throughout life. He cautions that a college or high school degree alone will not get a worker far in today’s business world due to the continual need to adapt to new working environments.
The book’s title comes from Friedman’s response to those who are late to meetings with him. Their tardiness in our fast-paced world provides him the rare opportunity to pause and reflect on this moment in history. In these waiting moments Friedman has the chance to put down the smart phone and just be.
Friedman ends his book with a chapter on hope. He hopes that all three “accelerating forces” and the resulting changes can be channeled for good. He has a list of policy recommendations which will undoubtedly be appreciated by liberals and dismissed by conservatives
In a fascinating closing he brings up the need to return to Judeo-Christian values. He raises the importance of seeking the common good of a community. The book that begins as a survey of science, business and technology leads to a quest for God and a well-ordered society. He concludes that, in this “age of accelerations,” society needs a reflective search for spiritual and community roots,
Thomas L Friedman is a three-time recipient of the Pulitzer Prize for his journalistic work with the New York Times, the author of six bestselling books, including from “Beirut to Jerusalem” and “The World is Flat.” Picador is the publisher of this 528 page book.