The Network Society
In 1996, social-sciences researcher Manuel Castells published The Rise of the Network Society, in which he identified new ways in which economic activity was being organized around the networks that the new telecommunication technologies have provided. This new, global economic activity was different from the past, because “it is an economy with the capacity to work as a unit in real time on a planetary scale.” We are now into this network society, where we are all connected on a global scale.
The World Is Flat
In 2005, Thomas Friedman’s seminal book, The World Is Flat, was published. In this book, Friedman unpacks the impacts that the personal computer, the Internet, and communication software have had on business, specifically the impact they have had on globalization. He begins the book by defining the three eras of globalization:
- “Globalization 1.0″ occurred from 1492 until about 1800. In this era, globalization was centered around countries. It was about how much horsepower, wind power, and steam power a country had and how creatively it was deployed. The world shrank from size “large” to size “medium.”
- “Globalization 2.0″ occurred from about 1800 until 2000, interrupted only by the two World Wars. In this era, the dynamic force driving change was multinational companies. The world shrank from size “medium” to size “small.”
- “Globalization 3.0″ is our current era, beginning in the year 2000. The convergence of the personal computer, fiber-optic Internet connections, and software has created a “flat-world platform” that allows small groups and even individuals to go global. The world has shrunk from size “small” to size “tiny.”
According to Friedman, this third era of globalization was brought about, in many respects, by information technology. Some of the specific technologies he lists include:
- The graphical user interface for the personal computer popularized in the late 1980s. Before the graphical user interface, using a computer was relatively difficult. By making the personal computer something that anyone could use, it became commonplace very quickly. Friedman points out that this digital storage of content made people much more productive and, as the Internet evolved, made it simpler to communicate content worldwide.
- The build-out of the Internet infrastructure during the dot-com boom during the late-1990s. During the late 1990s, telecommunications companies laid thousands of miles of fiber-optic cable all over the world, turning network communications into a commodity. At the same time, the Internet protocols, such as SMTP (e-mail), HTML (web pages), and TCP/IP (network communications) became standards that were available for free and used by everyone.
- The introduction of software to automate and integrate business processes. As the Internet continued to grow and become the dominant form of communication, it became essential to build on the standards developed earlier so that the websites and applications running on the Internet would work well together. Friedman calls this “workflow software,” by which he means software that allows people to work together more easily, and allows different software packages and databases to integrate with each other more easily. Examples include payment-processing systems and shipping calculators.
These three technologies came together in the late 1990s to create a “platform for global collaboration.” Once these technologies were in place, they continued to evolve. Friedman also points out a couple more technologies that have contributed to the flat-world platform – the open-source movement (see chapter 10) and the advent of mobile technologies.
The World Is Flat was published in 2005. Since then, we have seen even more growth in information technologies that have contributed to global collaborations. We will discuss current and future trends in chapter 13.