[I’ve said this before, but one thing potentially obscured by the famous “suck on this” line is how remarkably stupid the entire analysis is. “We should invade a random country because terrorism is like a stock market bubble, and the fact that the 9/11 terrorists had nothing to do with Iraq is central to my point.” Alas, he’s probably not wrong that this is also roughly the logic of many of the architects of the Iraq war.]
We will remember Friedman for interviewing 76 percent of the world’s taxi drivers, for predicting “the next six months will be critical” on 14 occasions over two and a half years (birthing the neologism, “the Friedman unit”), and for his unmatched, God-given ability to write nonsensical metaphors, like his classic “rule of holes”: “When you’re in one, stop digging. When you’re in three, bring a lot of shovels.”
Friedman’s great anti-gift is his ability to use many words when only a few are necessary. He became famous as a newspaper columnist for taking simple one-sentence observations like, “Wow, everyone has a cell phone these days,” and blowing them out into furious 850-word trash-fires of mismatched imagery and circular argument.
The double-axel version of this feat was to then rewrite that same column over and over again, in the same newspaper, only piling on more incongruous imagery and skewing rhetoric to further stoke that one thought into an even higher and angrier fire.
For nearly two decades now, Friedman has been telling us that something big is happening, technology is growing at a rate beyond the ability of humans to adapt (this is where the part about noticing everyone has a cell phone comes in), and that we have to stop doing things the old way and take a brave step into the future.
This decades-long gigantic art project is based upon a vast architecture of needless complication, a process he describes in this new book of his, Thank You for Being Late, as “translating English into English.”
Build a sentence into a column; build a column into many columns; build many columns into a book; build one book into many books. Then start over!
Eleven years ago, when Friedman wrote his seminal explainer book, The World is Flat – a book whose title metaphor was hilariously based on the wrong premise that people are more interconnected on a flat earth than on a round one – he combined two giant sets of metaphors to describe that same idea that technology was outpacing our ability to govern ourselves.
He said rapid changes in the world were being fueled by 10 “flatteners” (things like the end of communism, Netscape, outsourcing, etc.) which in turn were amplified by he said were four “steroids”: Digital, Mobile, Personal and Virtual.
Those four steroids actually turned out to be six – changing or extending the terms of his imagery midstream is a classic Friedmanism – and the sixth “steroid,” new wireless devices, was actually a new group of steroids he called “uber-steroids.”
This was confusing because the tenth item in Friedman’s list of “flatteners” was the group of four steroids. So his last flattener was a new group of steroids and his last steroid was a new group of uber-steroids.
Which meant we had uber-steroids amplifying steroids amplifying flatteners, with each list comprising items that belonged to other lists. He mashed all of that together for 470 pages or so.
I assume further encouragement to read the whole etc. will not be necessary.