Thomas Friedman has the talent to write about complicated subjects in a way that normal people can wrap their heads around. He does this by choosing an overarching theme and then spices up the explanation with various metaphors, analogies, and anecdotes galore. Whether it be about the Middle East or climate change, Friedman comes up with something people can use as a tool to unlock the complex narrative.
His latest book, Thank You for Being Late: An Optimist’s Guide to Thriving in the Age of Accelerations (2016), revolves around several themes that inform everything else. One such theme is what he refers to as the increasing acceleration of change around us in multiple dimensions, be it technology or life styles. He runs that under the reference to Moore’s law, referring to a well-known measurement of increasing capacity in the microchip industry, which doubles every two years. A second theme is that of Mother Nature—meaning climate change—as a massive global game changer for better (but likely for worse). Another is the supernova of the economic changes reshaping how we interact with markets through expanding digitalization. And all that is packed into a globalizing platform in which everything is connected and clashing with everything else.
Friedman explains how these challenges are forcing humans to change and adapt at an accelerating rate, encountering blowback from those who don’t like that speed, while also opening up new doors to those who want to get on the bus. He uses a turn of phrase by saying that people are struggling with a tendency to want “freedom from” something, like being confronted with change they don’t like or being given an opportunity to be free from bad things like hunger or disease. At the same time, he says people have a tough time getting accustomed to being “free to” innovate or change but that freedom is not always easy to exercise immediately, like getting used to a new digital labor market or a whole new set of choices for other life style options.
Friedman explains that there are different responses to all these accelerating changes at both the individual level and at the country level, some of whom react by welcoming the possibilities while others feel threatened by them.
The primary reason for referencing this book in the context of our work at AICGS is what Friedman doesn’t say. He writes a long book about global changes and their impact but says relatively little about Europe and, specifically, little about Germany. He does touch on the challenges Europe faces with reference to Brexit, the euro crisis, or the populist wave impacting politics across the continent. But that is essentially just a few paragraphs sprinkled through the book.
I mention this only to underline that the analysis is very U.S. centric—not surprising, but it does leave open a lot of running space to explore comparative responses, advantages, and disadvantages shared across the Atlantic when it comes to meeting the great changes resetting our world. Friedman recognizes the importance of Europe as the most important partner of the U.S. dealing with threats and opportunities in the supernova environment. But he doesn’t spend a lot of time on it.
This book is essentially a colorful reminder of the cost and consequences of change and codependency in a fast changing world. And the two sides of the Atlantic have a huge stake in pooling and sharing resources to cope with these forces. But I think it will take a deeper dive into what those resources look like in Europe and the U.S. to see how they can be best shared.