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Thank You for Being Late: An Optimist's…

Thank You for Being Late: An Optimist's Guide to Thriving in the Age… (2016)

by Thomas L. Friedman

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Summary: Discusses three “accelerations (computer-related technology, globalization, and climate change), how these might re-shape our world for ill or good, and the case for pausing, reflecting, and creating communities of trust working for the common good.

Whether you agree with him or not, an interview with Tom Friedman is always a fascinating conversation, at least for some of us. It was on Charlie Rose, my wife was watching while I had dropped off to sleep, and the next day, she told me, “we have to get Thank You For Being Late.” It didn’t stop there. After my wife started reading this, she said, “you have to read this and write one of your reviews on it.” So dear, I have, and I am, and let’s see what you think.

Friedman starts by explaining his title, which is his response to those who are late for meetings with him. In our accelerating world, time to pause, to reflect on our moment in history, and our lives, is an increasingly precious opportunity. Put away the smartphone and just be. Then, in the remainder of the chapter he recounts his encounter with an Ethiopian parking attendant who asks Friedman’s help with his blog. It turns out that he hosts a site devoted to a pro-democracy take on the politics and economics of his home country. Friedman contends that his columns mix his own values, priorities and aspirations, his analysis of the big forces, “the Machine” that are shaping events, and the impacts on peoples and cultures. And as he does this with Bojia, his new Ethiopian friend, he begins to reflect on these.

Part two of this book is concerned with three big forces he believes are impacting people and cultures. He looks at 2007 as a critical year–the debut of the first iPhone, the launch of the Android, Qualcomm’s 3G technology enabling book downloads on Kindles, IBM’s Watson, non-silicon based processors, the beginning of an accelerating curve of solar power usage. He sees this as an inflection point where technological innovation exceeds human adaptability, requiring new ways of learning and governing. This opens a several-chapter discussion of the first key force, technology, whose acceleration is reflected in Moore’s law on the doubling of processor speeds every 18-24 months, at decreasing costs, that has made for a tremendous explosions because of software, networking, the convergence of smartphones and computers, and what Friedman calls the “supernova” of “flow” that makes possible massive amounts of storage in “the cloud”, all kinds of ways to utilize that data (including nefarious, as the Equifax hack, and others underscore), with incredible implications for commerce globally.

This leads to his discussion of the second force, the global market, where being in “the flow” makes unprecedented collaboration and crowd-sourced innovation possible, but also increasingly automated financial flows that under some circumstances might lead to drastic computer-initiated market swings. At the same time, this can lead to incredible knowledge flows, such as MOOCs, making courses on nearly every subject available to anyone in the world with an internet connection, and also the export of the propaganda of terror, linking isolated individuals in developed countries with terror cells.

The third force is climate change and species loss, environmental changes that are sweeping the globe. He notes a series of boundaries we are breaching or in danger of breaching–climate change, biodiversity, deforestation, bio-geochemical flows, ocean acidification, freshwater use, atmospheric aerosols, and introduction of novel entities from chemicals we’ve invented to nuclear waste.

Friedman is ever the optimist and the third part of this book explores both technological and political innovations on the global scale that channel these forces for good, and in the chapter on “Control vs. Kaos” for ill. He has a chapter on “Mother Nature as Political Mentor” where he has Mother Nature making a laundry list of policy recommendations to delight the heart of anyone on the center-left of American politics, and will be dismissed by the right.

What was most fascinating for me amid this ramble through technology, globalization, and climate science, ground Friedman has traveled in other books is where he ends up in his last chapters. He essentially commends whatever our religion’s version is of Sunday school to teach us the Golden Rule and its application in life, and a return to “politics as local” revisiting his childhood days in St. Louis Park, a suburb of Minneapolis, and the continuing heritage of a politics beyond partisanship that forges relationships of trust with business and civic leaders, and presses into seeking the common good of a community.

When Friedman finishes, you feel he has touched everything including the kitchen sink. All of it is quite fascinating, and yet hard to hold together. Perhaps that is his point. Technology, globalization, changes in the environment are all accelerating–change is happening fast. We can run frantically to keep up. Or perhaps we would do better to pause. It is particularly intriguing that his most profound recommendations do not have to do with big government, even more technology or sweeping global environmental agreements, as much as I think he would be in sympathy with all of these. It is that we need to change in our own behavior, and in our habits of community. We need to return to real communities rather than virtual echo chambers and move from national posturing to local governing.

What begins as a survey of science, business, and technology ends in a kind of quest for God and a well-ordered society. An exploration of the accelerating future ends in a reflective search for spiritual and community roots. It feels to me that Friedman is searching for God knows what, and I find my self thinking, “indeed, God knows, but will we listen?” ( )
  BobonBooks | Sep 13, 2017 |
Thomas Friedman's books should be must reading for two groups: those in public office, and those who are not in public office. ( )
  davevanl | Mar 28, 2017 |
I like Thomas Friedman; I have a lot of respect for him. But I have a real problem with Friedman books. "Thank You for Being Late" is my third, at least, and I've had the same issue time and again. But before getting into that, let me recap this book broadly along with my reactions to some of its piece parts. It'll help make my point a bit clearer, and perhaps some of you will recall a similar experience.

The early chapters deal with all the changes, mostly technological, that have occurred in recent years, with an emphasis on the last decade or two. There are a lot of examples dealing with computer related advances in hardware, software, and networks, mostly from the early days of personal computers to the present. He gives a lot of emphasis to 2007 because of the huge infrastructure and capacities that had recently erupted, with a lot of focus on big name companies of today which had origins that year. It's an incredible and very exciting history, one that I have encouraged my techie grandson to read, and one that I will probably re-read over the years.

Friedman also describes three large forces at work in the dawn of our new century - Technology, Globalization, and Mother Nature - that will be shaping our workplace, politics, ethics, geopolitics and community, i.e. environment. And opportunities. He also covers work place skills, and how they are changing, and how young people can best be prepared to deal with the future. There is also the very big issue of the pace of change. It seems so many things these days are obsolete before we get to take them out of the box. (Two months after I bought my iPhone 7 all I have been hearing is how great 8 will be.) Throughout the book, Friedman carefully builds links to help the reader understand we are coming from, where we are, and where we seem to be headed. Until the last chapters.

Then he does a nostalgia/community thing that for me derailed before pulling into the station. I am about the same age as Friedman, I too look back at my early Midwest days with a lot of good memories and strong emotions. I know that I often look at the past with rose tinted glasses. I suspect he has done the same. For example, I feel that (sadly) many of his concerns regarding the assimilation of new immigrants are out of touch in the current environment. And I never saw the fit with the preceding pages. Whatever, these last ninety-five pages just didn't work for me. So 5 stars for the first 350 or so and 1 star for the last 95. Oddly enough I recall loving only the first half of "From Beirut...." and most but not all of "The World is Flat.....". For some reason, he just doesn't seem to bring it home for me; maybe next time.... ( )
  maneekuhi | Mar 27, 2017 |
I enjoyed Tom Friedman's articles in the New York Times and his observations and comments in various other media including the new shows. It took me a while to read the book ( 460 pages) but it was well worth my time and effort. What this book was about mostly was "change." Changes in technology, culture, climate change, politics and globalization have been overwhelming, particularly in the last 10 years. Friedman uses 2007 as a jumping off point for his review and observations regarding change. 2007 was the release of the iPhone and various other technology changes occurred during that year.

I particularly enjoyed Friedman's thoughts on careers and jobs. Young people must prove themselves to be very adaptable to change, market themselves effectively and pursue lifelong learning. A college or high school degree will not get you very far in today's business world or in the future.

In some ways I am envious. I have retired so I have no way of testing how well I would or will do in this type of accelerated change. This is a great book for young business oriented people and college graduates to read.

Regrettably I think that the election of 2016 proves that too many Americans are not adapting to change or the realities affecting their careers and life. ( )
  writemoves | Jan 30, 2017 |
This book was an intellectual slog for me. I initially took it out of the Library during the holiday season…I should know better. I had very little time to read, especially connected time to digest a book about technology. But once the holiday was over, I knuckled down and was determined to read it with comprehension. I’ve enjoyed Friedman’s recent books and this is no exception. He thoroughly covers current technological advances (having fact-checked his text right before publication) and interviews some of the greatest minds about future endeavors. The reader does feel a bit breathless as the descriptions of what’s coming spin faster and faster. He discusses the challenges that we (society) face as we are ever more empowered by technology. I particularly glommed on to this quote
“ …as a species, we have never before stood at this moral fork in the road—where one of us could kill all of us and all of us could fix everything if we really decided to do so. Therefore, properly exercising the powers that have been uniquely placed in the hands of our generation will require a degree of moral innovation that we leaders lack.” Pg 342
A few pages later, after a discussion of unintended consequences of algorithms Dov Seidman is quoted "Technology creates possibilities for new behaviors and experiences and connection ..but it takes human beings to make the behaviors principled the experience meaningful and connections deeper and rooted in shared values and aspirations." Pg 345

Friedman does extensive research including many interviews with current thinkers as well as making liberal use of pop culture references to make some of his points. I particularly liked the section of the book in which Friedman uses Mother Nature as a political mentor. His metaphor was well-explained and made sense as he created his list for rethinking our systems. My only disappointment with the book was the last two chapters. I think the author took the liberty of writing a memoir as part of,what is said to be, his last book. Although it was interesting, for me it took the punch out of the rest of his chapters. I am very glad I read the book and would recommend it to people interested in thinking more deeply about the future of our world. ( )
  beebeereads | Jan 20, 2017 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0374273537, Hardcover)

A field guide to the twenty-first century, written by one of its most celebrated observers

We all sense it―something big is going on. You feel it in your workplace. You feel it when you talk to your kids. You can’t miss it when you read the newspapers or watch the news. Our lives are being transformed in so many realms all at once―and it is dizzying.

In Thank You for Being Late, a work unlike anything he has attempted before, Thomas L. Friedman exposes the tectonic movements that are reshaping the world today and explains how to get the most out of them and cushion their worst impacts. You will never look at the world the same way again after you read this book: how you understand the news, the work you do, the education your kids need, the investments your employer has to make, and the moral and geopolitical choices our country has to navigate will all be refashioned by Friedman’s original analysis.

Friedman begins by taking us into his own way of looking at the world―how he writes a column. After a quick tutorial on that subject, he proceeds to write what could only be called a giant column about the twenty-first century. His thesis: to understand the twenty-first century, you need to understand that the planet’s three largest forces―Moore’s law (technology); the Market (globalization); and Mother Nature (climate change and biodiversity loss)―are accelerating all at once. These accelerations are transforming five key realms: the workplace, politics, geopolitics, ethics, and community.

Why is this happening? As Friedman shows, the exponential increase in computing power defined by Moore’s law has a lot to do with it. The year 2007 was a major inflection point: the release of the iPhone, together with advances in silicon chips, software, storage, sensors, and networking, created a new technology platform. Friedman calls this platform “the supernova”―for it is an extraordinary release of energy that is reshaping everything from how we hail a taxi to the fate of nations to our most intimate relationships. It is creating vast new opportunities for individuals and small groups to save the world―or to destroy it.

Thank You for Being Late is a work of contemporary history that serves as a field manual for how to write and think about this era of accelerations. It’s also an argument for “being late”―for pausing to appreciate this amazing historical epoch we’re passing through and reflecting on its possibilities and dangers. To amplify this point, Friedman revisits his Minnesota hometown in his moving concluding chapters; there, he explores how communities can create a “topsoil of trust” to anchor their increasingly diverse and digital populations.

With his trademark vitality, wit, and optimism, Friedman shows that we can overcome the multiple stresses of an age of accelerations―if we slow down, if we dare to be late and use the time to reimagine work, politics, and community. Thank You for Being Late is Friedman’s most ambitious book―and an essential guide to the present and the future.

(retrieved from Amazon Fri, 02 Sep 2016 15:20:09 -0400)

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