Ground Clutter

In our August issue I recommended the book The World Is Flat by Thomas Friedman. Weeks later, on September 19, FORTUNE magazine devoted ten pages of its 75th anniversary issue to the same book and author. Hey, can I spot ‘em?

The World is Flat maintains that trade barriers, and thus the world itself, are being flattened by computers and other “disruptive technology.” It has become the Bible on globalization. Read it and you'll see signs of globalization all about you.

Friedman points out that engineering jobs are being outsourced to India and this will accelerate. Shortly after I read that, my computer engineer son, Kevin, informed me that his high-tech employer has contracted with engineers in India, and Kevin will spend several weeks in India helping smooth the transition. Then I read elsewhere that China and India are producing more new engineers than we are. (Sounds like déjà vu all over again to those of us who remember America’s panic about our engineering shortfall after Sputnik in the late 1950s.)

The aviation industry plays a big role in world flattening. People jet about, striking international deals for products that will be delivered “just in time” anywhere in the world by air freight. There is a downside to this, per an October 4th National Geographic cover story, “The Next Killer Flu.” Geographic warns that just as the flu pandemic of 1918 (read the book, The Great Influenza for details) was spread swiftly by the travel of World War I, the next flu pandemic could be spread in half the time by the jet airplane.

Many globalists (Is that a word?) believe that countries that trade together don’t go to war, just as it is historical fact that democracies don’t war against each other. In September, I spoke for the annual meeting of ISASI (International Society of Air Safety Investigators). There were 37 countries represented, all working to improve the safety of what is already the safest means of transportation.

At the ISASI banquet, I was amazed to find a fellow from China sitting next to a fellow from Taiwan. They chatted, made toasts together, and seemed to be enjoying each other — this at a time when the world tiptoes around the very idea of an independent Taiwan. A lawyer at our table, Christa Hinckley, asked the two, “You can speak to each other?” I didn’t hear the answer but did see them both nodding and laughing. The fellow who hired me to speak, longtime friend John Darbo, said their answer was, basically, “No problem.” Darbo went on to say they were illustrating an axiom of the industry: Safety has no borders.

A final bit: The September 17th issue of The Economist advises that Voice Over Internet Protocol (VOIP) will reduce the cost of telephone service to “near zero” over the next few years. Telephone companies that stay in business will do so by offering other services, throwing voice calls in as a free, or nearly free, service. I read that article immediately after I signed a new two-year cell phone contract. Damn!