While Thomas Friedman might be near the top of many people’s dinner guest wish-list, the author, columnist and serial Pulitzer Prize-winner himself sounds a note of caution. “I’m not a lot of fun at dinner parties,” he jokes. He’s not all doom-and-gloom, but he does warn that the global economic climate is about to get tougher for all but the most competitive of knowledge economies.
“I often ask myself what would be the big global trend that we’d be talking about if the subprime crisis hadn’t happened?” he says. “I think we’d be talking about the most important thing going on in the world today, the thing that’s shaping and effecting more than anything else, and that is the merger of globalisation and the IT revolution. The IT revolution has bolted forward – Twitter, Facebook, iPhones and browser-enabled mobile phones – at a breakneck speed over the last five years, and this is driving globalisation which is in turn opening more countries to the IT revolution.”
Friedman was the guest of honour at the first Global Conversation conference in Dubai, an event organised by the International Herald Tribune and – thanks to the IT revolution – streamed live online to an audience of millions around the world. He and leaders from the world of banking and finance debated the role the Middle East will play in the New Silk Road, from those countries that are still in the earlier days of development to those whose infrastructure spending has already established them as key players in the West-East economic shift. And it seems appropriate that this discussion should take place in the refined atmosphere of the Burj Khalifa, which was designed by an American architect, built by South Korean contractors, and today stands as a record-breaking monument to the power of globalisation.
“The merger between the IT revolution and globalisation is changing everything,” suggests Friedman, warming to his theme. “We are moving from a connected world to a hyper-connected world, and when you make that move, if you think of the world as a single classroom, the whole curve just rose, because I as an employer in Dubai, London or New York now have access to more powerful, more available and so much cheaper labour, software, automation, robotics and genius.
“For me the single most important fact of our age is that ‘average’ is officially over,” he adds. “The pressure this is putting labour under in the developed world, let alone the developing world, let alone the world that’s been left deeply behind, is going to be enormously important.”