Black crowned night heron © Robert Sommers 2023

Sunday, March 20, 2016


I am a little late to the party in reading Thomas L. Friedman's book The World is flat. His book was written in 2005 and than rewritten a year later. I do apologize. It took a while to find it on the sale rack.

However if Mr. Friedman feels that he has a right to provide his readers with a brief history of the twenty first century at a point in time in which barely 5% of said century had expired, I think I can take ten years or so to comment on his work.

It is an interesting work, which I admit not to have finished. Friedman explains how globalization has caused many essential domestic jobs to be exported to what once were third world countries, like India.

Our new connectivity has "flattened the world," resulting in many jobs lost to countries whose wage scales are not only a fraction of our own but now boast a highly skilled workforce.
"It is now possible for more people than ever to collaborate and compete in real time with more other people on more different kinds of work from more corners of the planet and on a more equal footing than at any previous time in the history of the world - using computers, email, fiber optic networks, teleconferencing and dynamic new software." Thomas Friedman
The author posits that we entered a new phase he calls Globalization 3.0 around 2000. This is the era where the flat earth platform comes into its own. He sees a scenario soon approaching where all of the menial accounting tasks on your tax returns are performed by some skilled CPA in Bangalore, leaving the American's to more conceptual questions designing what he calls big picture strategies.

There are similar stories about medicine and he clues us in to the fact that a lot of radiology is being performed real time in India as we speak, or as we spoke ten years ago anyway. Many other industries are certainly following the journey off of our shores. Globalization is a fact of life and it is creating major changes in the planet's economies.

A friend of mine in software development told me about the problems he has had lately with American programmers. A domestic senior programmer costs him about 170k a year. He can get a PHD coder from eastern Europe who will work for about 70k. Happily. "And do a better job," he says.

I am not going to belabor a book that I haven't finished reading but I thought that the chapter on Indian call centers was most instructive. Not only are scads of eager young Indians servicing most of our computer and banking needs, they can do it in the english accent of your choice, depending on who they are speaking to.

These call center operators make about 700 bucks a month and they are very happy doing it. And the competition for the jobs is so fierce that only about 6% of the applicants ultimately secure a job.

Betty bought a bit of better butter. Thirty little turtles in a bottle of bottled water.

The language is what mostly interests me, being a language sort of guy. The operators are taught to speak in a neutral middle american accent at one leading company, 24/7. They read a phonetic paragraph over and over and learn to roll r's and soften t's.

I was thinking about the book when I saw this article the other day Inside the World of Accent Training on BBC.

The Philippines has now overtaken India as a call center hub. It now employs 1.07 million people and grosses over $18.9 billion in revenue, contributing nearly a 10th of the total GDR.
At SPi Global, one of the Philippines’ largest BPO companies, call center workers are introduced to 35 distinct English accents — from New Yorker to Medieval English to Jamaican — an assortment fit to prepare workers for a wide variety of interactions, while providing some background of the foreign language.
The biggest thing they stress is again, accent neutralization. But there is also a need to respond to customers needs and to communicate regardless of accent.
“Accent neutralisation is at the top of the list,” said Villena, “but the game is changing now. It’s not all about the accent anymore — it is now geared towards comprehensibility and their [the workers’] ability to interact with the customers regardless of if they have very strong accents or if their accent is neutral.”
The world is definitely flattening. Drone operators in Nevada and elsewhere kill enemies a world apart with a flick of a joystick. CentCom, which manages our conflicts in the middle east, is housed at some posh megabunker in Tampa. Free trade is invigorating some nascent economies and bludgeoned others like ours that have gotten used to domestic protectionism that is disappearing.

And we have no problem buying goods from places like Walmart that sometimes utilize foreign sweat shops and take advantage of Bangla Deshi style work and child welfare laws. Not to mention goods produced in Chinese prison camps. Americans don't really have time to think about who makes their stuff, as long as it is cheap.

 It was a fun ride being on top but there is no top anymore on a flat earth, we learn to once again get our hands dirty, think creatively and hustle or we go extinct. Adapt or die.

The San Diego Union had an interesting opinion editorial today ruminating on the manner in which social media is altering our political landscape, Donald Trump's rise mirrors social media.
We have a message for anyone who longs for the tidier times of 1992 — or even 2012. This election cycle has seen the emergence of a political media culture in which candidates and traditional journalists have been muscled aside by a technology-enabled public. Millions of Americans don’t want to be treated like children and shepherded through their decision-making by a paternalistic establishment. Fueled by social media and online news framed with strong ideological views, these voters demand change and flock to unconventional candidates. Party insiders still have structural ways to impose their will on the rank and file, such as having senior officials be “superdelegates” at conventions — deciders who in theory will pick the candidate most likely to win in November. But their role as gatekeepers deciding which candidates are acceptable has been obliterated.
The authors wonder if the danger is the public misperceiving Twitter or social media or the politicians failing to be able to influence and manipulate it?

I am still pondering the data from New Hampshire in which Trump supporters said that Sanders was their second choice. This shows that the salient forces involved are something more than just ideological. The rise of the alienated, antiestablishment voter.

I have just finished watching the first season of Better call Saul. I am bummed that Netflix won't ship the second season out. Living in a rural area puts me in a backseat for certain information. Bandwidth and access is power.


Douglas Keller said...

I can't comment about these kinds of vast topics...but, just as a personal exposure to Friedman's talking head...he seems like a relative lightweight. Not up to the task at all.

I will, however, comment on the new photo, "Sticky Widgets": good one, Robert. Compositionally rich, yet partaking of reality, nonetheless. Obviously impossible to pull everything together to perfection....and my eye could quibble with some elements...but only quibble. Thanks for sharing.

Jon Harwood said...

The globalization process has been a sister for the blue collar worker and it is beginning looking that way for the white collar worker. This seems to fuel the Trump and Sanders campaigns. I wonder if this is the last chance for a "peasant's rebellion" before the economies of the world shift power decisively to the small elites. This "pesasants rebellion" aspect is one thing I like about Trumps campaign.

Blue Heron said...

Re: the photo. Thanks for the nice words. Keep in mind that I just shoot in these positions, there is no posing of objects. So I lose a certain ability to manipulate compositionally. But things are also somewhat freer in a random position.

Blue Heron said...

What do you mean by sister Jon?

Jon Harwood said...

I think I must swear off using an iPad to post ANYTHING. Either I am retarded (60% probability) or the tiny keyboard of the I pad lead me to type sister instead of DISASTER.

Oh well, standing in the corner with my well used dunce cap in the "on" position.

Blue Heron said...

Its no big. We all do it every day. Glad I could ask.

What I hate is when the phone tries to suggest words I should write. Electronic instruments should mind their own business.