Saturday, April 16, 2005

Flat World, Tom Friedman, Doc Searles...

A couple of weeks ago I started a long, disorganized post with a link to Thomas Friedman's piece in the NY Times promoting his new book.
I could tell at the time it was going to be important. Jeff Jarvis was already reacting to it. That afternoon somebody at work talked about a Charlie Rose interview with Friedman covering the same subject. Boy, when a professional writer of his stature hatches a book, he really knows how to make it sell.

Thursday Doc Searls wrote about the flat world and Friedman's new book.
Today's find is worth reading.

"It's a Flat World, After All", Tom Friedman says. That's the title of his long essay in this past Sunday's New York Times magazine. A few days earlier, his new book, The World is Flat: A Brief History of the Twenty-First Century, hit the book stores. I have a copy right here at my left elbow. In support of our local book store, I paid the full price for the hardcover, which weighs in at close to 500 pages. At this point I've read most of it, including everything it says about Linux, GNU/Linux free software and open source.

The World is Flat, which I abbreviate TWIF, in the manner of Eric Raymond's CaTB, may be the most important book written to date on all the subjects in the last sentence. First, it makes clear sense of all those subjects. Second, it puts them in a large and highly meaningful context--the flat new world--where they clearly have enormous on-going roles to play. Third, it's already a bestseller: #3 on Amazon, as of yesterday.

When Doc Searls says it's important, it's important.
But just because it's important, it doesn't mean it is above criticism...

The problem here and throughout the book lies in Tom's big-company frame of reference. As (I can only assume) a Windows user, and as a widely traveled fellow who no doubt sees approximately everybody in the world using Windows, he grants Microsoft a degree of importance it does not deserve, in a domain it did little to develop: namely, the Net, which is the flat anvil on which all the other flattening forces he profiles hammer down--with the single exception of open source.

What he misses is that the practices, values, traditions, standards, protocols and products that created the Net also are those of what we now call the Free Software and Open Source movements. Yes, commercial interests were involved. Paul Kunz of the Stanford Linear Accelerator Center (SLAC) gives an excellent talk (see Resources) about the history of the World Wide Web, of the role played by high energy physics laboratories (including SLAC and CERN, where Tim Berners-Lee created the Web) and of the roles played by largely uncredited commercial interests, such as IBM (with BITNET), NeXT (providing the machines on which the Web first ran) and Digital Equipment Corp. (With machines and various Decants). In summary, he says, "Use of the backbone remains free, and ARPANET open-source culture persists."

This read is not for everyone.
It makes a good many technical references. I don't pretend to understand all I read here, but I enjoy following the overall sweep of technology. Reading over stuff like this makes me imagine I am keeping up. It introduces me to terms, acronyms and ideas that are shaping the world around me.

At the end is a link to a classic piece of writing that should be required reading for anyone interested in marketing, journalism, history, technology, politics or current events.
Does that about cover it?
Good. Don't skip it, even if you don't read Doc Searls' article.
The Cluetrain Manifesto: The End of Business as Usual

No comments: