Sunday, March 7, 2010

Did Thomas Friedman miss the memo? Or did Africa?

So we live in a flat world, right? You know, borders don't matter, instant communication, location is irrelevant, information economy, etc.

At least that's what I thought.

Washington Post has a recent article on second life and the virtual economy.

Second World's economy looks remarkably like that of the physical world. At one end, where most users are, small-business owners such as Moore keep their physical-world day jobs but make a few hundred dollars a year selling niche products such as rain and T-shirts. But as Second Life has grown, some users have built much bigger, full-time businesses: Stiletto Moody sells thousands of high-end shoes for about $8 a pair, and Curious Kitties is a Japanese maker of somewhat risqué clothing.

More than 50 businesses in the virtual world made more than $100,000 each last year.

Second Life's owner, Linden Lab, makes money by selling land plots and islands. An island runs about $1,000, a high barrier of entry for most Second Life users. But to open a strip mall, dance club or office tower, or to build a home, avatars need land. Some Second Life users have taken on Donald Trump-like personas, buying land from Second Life and then leasing plots to small-business owners or would-be homeowners, or flipping their properties as speculators.

I think what we're seeing here is a precursor to a a greater prevalence of virtual reality. As time goes on and the virtual worlds become more sophisticated and people can make a living off of the virtual world, there will be more withdrawal and people will live out entire lives in their apartments since all interaction can be gained through the internet.

Despite it's low rate of success, internet dating has been in the mainstream for several years now.

Apparently, social networking sites are starting to see flattening demand.

Tom Friedman has his latest column on Intel and American Innovation:

While America still has the quality work force, political stability and natural resources a company like Intel needs, said Otellini, the U.S. is badly lagging in developing the next generation of scientific talent and incentives to induce big multinationals to create lots more jobs here.

These local incentives matter because smart, skilled labor is everywhere now. Intel can thrive today — not just survive, but thrive — and never hire another American. Asked if his company was being held back by weak science and math education in America’s K-12 schools, Otellini explained:

“As a citizen, I hate it. As a global employer, I have the luxury of hiring the best engineers anywhere on earth. If I can’t get them out of M.I.T., I’ll get them out of Tsing Hua” — Beijing’s M.I.T.

But there's a problem with this narrative. OK, so talent is everywhere. OK, so people are plugged in and compete with us. I get it.

But what about this:

The Genocide in the Congo with 4-5 million dead in the past decade from disease, starvation, and violence associated with the civil war.

The absolute mess in Somalia that the US is trying to clean up. Funny, I don't hear complaints about US imperialism when we're talking about Africa.

The genocide in Darfur

Continuing rampages of the Lord's Resistance Army in Uganda

inter religious violence in Nigeria

breast ironing in Cameroon as a preventative measure to prevent rape of adolescent women.

Female genital mutilation throughout Africa

Modern Slavery in Africa

Honestly, I'm getting a bit tired of these example. We keep looking, and unfortunately it's not too hard to find continuous evidence of dysfunction on the lost continent.

But I think it demonstrates a key problem with the flat world thesis. Yes, technology makes us interconnected, and yes, we do have access to all the world's information. I don't deny that.

What Friedman forgets is a set of fundamental facts:

1) Not all people have the same level of intelligence or propensity to obey the law

2) This difference is highly correlated with ethnicity

3) In the world we live in, geography and nation states are still largely organized along ethnic lines for the majority of countries

4) Interconnectedness and access to information cannot help an individual if the said individual chooses to ignore it

5) Internet usage is different between countries and intelligence is the largest determinant of interest in adopting the internet

6) There is a multiplicative factor. Regions where intelligence is low and people are less likely to adopt the internet are even more likely to fall behind because the few intelligent people will have less access to the internet and will therefore have to spend a greater portion of their lives interacting with stupid people, therefore not gaining sufficient stimulation to utilize their brains

When was the last time Friedman wrote an article about Africa? He may gush on and on about India, but ignores the fact that India has more slaves than the US ever did in it's history.

I think to some degree that he an other flat worlders try to never mention the middle east, Africa, or latin America, or Southeast Asia, or the backwards part of South Asia, is that it really bring HBD into focus.

After all, even though there are more than 4 billion mobile phones in circulation, why has the internet penetrated only 1.4 billion of the world's 6.7 billion people?

After all, if all information is available, why are they still so backwards? If everyone is equal, shouldn't we all be on facebook? Should the stigma of being tagged on your myspace profile while performing a child sacrifice ceremony be enough shame to not do it anymore?

I guess not.