The Technological Landscape of the 21st Century

It is truly amazing to consider the world we live in, especially when you take into account that the Internet is less than twenty years old.  Although the opinions of what this world looks like may differ, one thing that is certain is that the topography of our 21st century world is very different from that of the past.  

Thomas Friedman (2005) focuses on the role of businesses in our global society in his book The World is Flat.  He stresses the importance of “competition in a technology-fueled global environment [as] a call to action for governments, businesses and individuals who must stay ahead of these trends in order to remain competitive” (Friedman, 2005).  The emphasis he places on this statement is based on his belief that the playing field has been leveled based on the availability of technology and society’s ability to create, share and compete with each other.  Friedman even went as far as to identify ten forces “that led to globalization and world flattening” (Friedman, 2005).

Similar to Friedman, Clay Shirky discusses the fact that “the moment our historical generation is living through is the largest increase in expressive capability” in his 2009 TED talk.  This moment, similar to Friedman’s ten forces, is a significant milestone in our technological journey.  To assist him in backing up this statement, he used the example of the Chinese citizens tweeting as they were experiencing their 2008 earthquake (Shirky, 2009).  Shirky (2009) describes a landscape in which the audience is no longer a consumer but a producer as well.  He also refers to a case of “global technical transfer” in which the United States replicates a technique employed by developing country Nigeria (Shirky, 2009).  Shirky goes on to speak of technical capital vs. social capital, pointing out that many technological tools do not get interesting until they get boring (Shirky, 2009).

This viewpoint differs from that of the third by Richard Florida.  Florida’s interpretation of our technological topography is not flat but rather “spiky” (Florida, 2005).  In his rebuttal to Friedman’s book, Florida describes “spikes” in technology consumption, collaboration and production around large metropolitan cities (Florida, 2005).  He further states that these “spikes” will inevitably continue to grow higher as the valleys fall farther below (Florida, 2005).  Utilizing data based on the number of patents awarded, Florida makes his case for significantly higher amount of innovation taking place in urban areas (Florida, 2005).  Interestingly, Shirky’s (2009) example of the tech transfer that occurred from Nigeria to the United States is an example of how innovation is occurring in geographical areas that do not contain “spikes” yet still significantly contribute to globalization.

Though each of these varying viewpoints present a valid argument as to why their landscape most accurately describes the current state of technology in our world, I believe that Friedman and Shirky present and support a more valid argument than Florida.  I do not dispute that there is more innovation that takes place in our large cities.  I do, however, believe that this fact is inevitable based merely on the number of people that live in these areas.  Personally, I believe that current technologies are designed to accomplish the opposite of what Richard Florida argues.  Technology is for the people in Florida’s “valleys” that may not be living where all the action is, but are just as influential in the end result.

References

Florida, Richard.  (2005, August).  The World is Spiky.  The Atlantic Monthly.  Retrieved from http://www.theatlantic.com/past/docs/images/issues/200510/world-is-spiky.pdf

Friedman, Thomas.  (2005, April).  The World is Flat.  Farrar, Straus and Giroux.  New York, NY.

Shirky, Clay. (2009, June 16).  Clay Shirky:  How cellphones, Twitter, Facebook can make history.  Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watchv=c_iN_QubRs0&feature=youtu.be