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Friedman: My World is Flat Right Now

Friedman: My World is Flat Right Now

The day of reckoning is waving its white flag from the caboose, and that white flag’s name is Fahd. Fahd, 26, runs a souvlaki stand in Washington DC, and like his American-born counterparts, he enjoys listening to music on his iPod, watching television shows such as MTV’s Cribbage, and he will often communicate with his friends by typing on the tiny keys of his cell phone. But Fahd is as different as night and day from his American-born counterpart Tom, (who is white while he is dark-skinned).  In an important way: Fahd has a job. And Fahd won’t give me one.

“Look, Mr. F,” he says, while loading up what the Lebanese call “pita bread” with his delicious mixture of chicken and sauce (which is, ironically, also white) “It’s really just me, here. I don’t make much to begin with. And I don’t need anyone to provide analysis of the Middle East here at the stand. I’m just making sandwiches.”

Note his focus, and his determination. While American kids are busy on Facebook, Fahd is facing the bookkeeping. In a flat world, a souvlaki sandwich guy on Constitution Ave is competing against mathematicians in Singapore and eager tiffin wallahs in Bangalore, which is why he absolutely needs somebody to educate his customers about the ups and downs and apples and oranges of foreign policy today.

“I don’t know what you’re talking about, Mr. F,”  Fahd tells me, as he scans the horizon for drug dealers in the favelas of Sao Paulo and metallurgists in Shanghai, who at this moment are staying up late to do their homework and thus eat his lunch, though not literally. “And if you’re going to hang around here, you’re going to need to buy another sandwich. You’re scaring my customers.”

Imagine two middle aged men, named Tom and Graydon. Both have gone from young Turk to old hat, and have noticed that it’s a little harder to walk eighteen holes than it used to be, even with a caddy. But only Graydon, as of this week, has a job. And Tom has three Pulitzer Prizes and four New York Times bestsellers, and is often invited to very important parties, and never has to talk to anyone below the rank of full Minister.  Tom is wondering what the hell is it that he has to do, to get Graydon to return his calls and emails. In this horizontal, accelerated world, where everybody is tweeting 140 characters, the most important interactions happen between characters, especially when they aren’t really characters but myself and my (possibly former) friend Graydon.

And so we find ourselves blowing the horns of this dilemma: as a nation we very much enjoy getting paid a lot of money to fly around the planet and write two columns a week, and yet in this warm, gently curved world there seems to be no one willing to provide us with first class plane tickets or nice hotel suites with wireless access and fruit platters. Not to mention that my wife’s family’s real estate company went belly up faster than a goldfish swimming in the Gulf. In such a situation, we need to forget what’s worked in the past, and concentrate on what will work in this new, parallel, day-glo world: begging a sandwich maker for a job.

As a person under thirty running his own business, Fahd is focused only on his immediate needs, and his immediate needs include, whether he wants to admit it or not, a fifty-ish foreign policy expert who can provide global strategies and pithy policy recommendations to guide his sandwich making strategies.  As of now, though, he remains skeptical.

“Please, Mr. F. I will call police, okay? You don’t like that, I don’t like that. And you need to pay for that sandwich, please.”

I give him six weeks.  


Background: Shim