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This meeting, jointly sponsored by the Woodrow Wilson Center's Division of International Studies and Program on Science, Technology, America and the Global Economy, featured author Thomas L. Friedman to discuss his new book, The World is Flat: A Brief History of the Twenty-first Century (published by Farrar, Straus & Giroux).

Thomas Friedman opened with the anecdote that led to the title of his new book. While in Bangalore, India making a documentary for the Discovery Times channel on outsourcing, Infosys CEO Nandan Nilekani observed that "the playing field has been leveled" to allow India and others to compete for global knowledge work as never before. This leveling or "flattening" of the world is the hallmark of what Friedman describes as a third wave of globalization or "Globalization 3.0."

The first era of globalization from 1492 to 1800 "shrank the world from a size large to size medium." The key dynamic force was nation-states seeking to accrue power and wealth through imperial conquest and control over resources. The second wave – Globalization 2.0 – from 1800 to 2000 "shrank the world from a size medium to a size small." Companies, rather than countries, fueled this second epoch of globalization. Friedman argued that the global economy has now entered a third era of globalization – Globalization 3.0 – in which the world has shrunk still further "from a size small to a size tiny" and the force of dynamism has been reduced to individuals and small groups.

Friedman traced the key historical dates that have "flattened the world," starting with "11-9" – November 9, 1989 – the day on which the Berlin Wall fell and that was followed five months later by the release of Microsoft's first version of Windows. "The wall came down and the windows came up," Friedman observed. The worldwide dissemination of a basic computer operating system via Microsoft was followed on "8-9-95" – August 9, 1995 – by the issuing of the stock IPO for Netscape, whose browser fueled the explosive growth of the Internet. By the late 1990s, additional technological advancements – most notably, the development of software to make applications compatible – created a global ability to collaborate. The implications have been profound. This conjunction has led to the outsourcing of services and to the offshoring of production facilities, as well as "open sourcing" (as Microsoft is challenged by the free operating system, Linux) and "insourcing" (as companies like UPS offer other commercial firms a range of customer services).

All of these forces shaping the global economy – the "flatteners" – have converged. Horizontal networks are supplanting vertical structures. These developments create an enormous challenge for Americans and, at the same time, an unprecedented opportunity to collaborate with innovators around the world.