The Brave New World: How To Keep Pace With The Blistering Change

The Brave New World: How To Keep Pace With The Blistering ChangeRobotics student Gildo Andreoni interacts with a Dexmart robotic hand built at the University of Bologna in the Robotville exhibition in London, England. (Oli Scarff/Getty Images)
  • With so many changes afoot, the overriding question that arises is: how do we adapt?

    “We need to reimagine the whole conveyor belt from primary education to work to lifelong learning”, answers Thomas L Friedman in his book, Thank You For Being Late: An Optimist’s Guide to Thriving in the Age of Accelerations.

Towards the end of his book Thank You For Being Late: An Optimist's Guide to Thriving in the Age of Accelerations (2016), noted journalist Thomas L Friedman states: "I am a socially liberal, deeply patriotic, pluralism-loving, community-oriented, fiscally moderate, free-trade-inclined, innovation-obsessed environmentalist-capitalist." Now that is a statement after my own heart! This is a kind of human being I could aspire to be!

In the past, Friedman has faced a lot of flak (especially from Joseph Stiglitz and the like) for being gung-ho on globalisation in his best-selling book The World is Flat (2005). He himself has described the setbacks faced by the United States (US) and the West due to globalisation in his book That Used to Be Us (2010), co-authored with Michael Mandelbaum.

The book cover
The book cover

Friedman is not blind to all arguments for and against globalisation but he prefers to maintain a positive outlook on it (as seen by the fact that he labels his latest book "An Optimist's Guide").

There have been a lot of books about the unfolding future. One of the earliest was Alvin Toffler's Future Shock (1970). Toffler argued that we were moving from an industrial society to a "super-industrial society" in which changes occur at a tremendous pace leaving people stressed and disoriented.

More recently, futurist Ray Kurzweil, in his book The Singularity is Near (2006), proposed that our machines would have passed the Turing test by 2029 and that by 2045 "the pace of change will be so astonishingly quick that we won't be able to keep up, unless we enhance our own intelligence by merging with the intelligent machines we are creating".

Friedman, in his latest book, continues along the same path but with fresh insights. He declares that 2007 was a vintage year in history because a lot of technology confluence took place that year: the iPhone was launched in 2007; storage capacity for computing exploded due to the emergence of Hadoop in 2007; GitHub, the open-source repository for the world's software was started in 2007; Facebook and Twitter opened up to the world around that time., a popular social mobilisation site, emerged in 2007.

Google bought YouTube in 2006 and launched Android in 2007. Amazon released Kindle in 2007. Airbnb emerged in 2007 and so did Palantir Technologies, a leading big data analytics company.

The year 2007, says Friedman, was also the beginning of the clean power revolution leading to an exponential rise in solar and wind energy, LED lighting, energy-efficient buildings and electric vehicles.

Thus, one of the forces of history – technology, symbolised by Moore's Law – underwent a quantum leap in and around 2007. Where is all the technology convergence leading? They have converged on the “cloud”, which “acts like a giant utility in the sky”.

Friedman warns that “the accelerating speed of scientific and technological innovations ... can outpace the capacity of the average human being and our societal structures to adapt and absorb them.” And further on, “Many of us cannot keep pace anymore.”

Regarding markets, many recent books have claimed that globalisation is on a receding track. Protectionism is on the rise. To the contrary, Friedman avers that we are more interconnected than ever:

“Think of the flow of friends through Facebook, the flow of renters through Airbnb, the flow of opinions through Twitter, the flow of e-commerce through Amazon, Tencent, and Alibaba, the flow of crowd-funding through Kickstarter, Indiegogo, and GoFundMe, the flow of ideas and instant messages through WhatsApp and WeChat, the flow of peer-to-peer payments and credit through PayPal and Venmo, the flow of pictures through Instagram, the flow of education through Khan Academy, the flow of courses through MOOCs, the flow of design tools through Autodesk, the flow of music through Apple, Pandora, and Spotify, the flow of video through Netflix, the flow of news through or, the flow of cloud-based tools through Salesforce, the flow of searches for knowledge through Google, and the flow of raw video through Periscope and Facebook. All these flows substantiate [the] claim that the world is, indeed, more connected than ever.”

No longer can we describe a community or a nation in terms of stocks of knowledge or stocks of wealth. It is the flows passing through the country or community and how we deal with them that matters.

After Moore’s Law and the market, Friedman shifts his attention to Mother Nature and discusses climate change and biodiversity loss.

For the last 11,500 years or so, we have been in the Holocene epoch, which followed the Pleistocene epoch (the so-called Great Ice Age). It has been suggested by many scientists that we are slowly moving away from the Holocene epoch to a new era – tentatively called the Anthropocene (where human activity affects the environment). This is uncharted territory, or as Friedman puts it, a “no-analogue world”. We can only theorise on what can happen.

With so many changes afoot, the overriding question that arises is: how do we adapt? We as a community should answer this one and Luddite mentalities are no solution. We need to accelerate innovation in the labour/education/start-up realms and get the rest of us on board. “We need to reimagine the whole conveyor belt from primary education to work to lifelong learning” is Friedman’s earnest answer.

In the unfolding world, it would be skills, not degrees, that would matter. And not everyone would have to invest four years in a university education.

Friedman concludes by taking a trip to his native Minnesota and describing the changes that have taken place there in the past few decades. He seems to say that knowing one's roots, knowing where we come from, would help us stake a claim in the “brave new world”.


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