As World Speeds Up, Friedman Hits Pause

Nov 09, 2017

Beware of the Overscheduled Life, Author Says

SMITH BRAIN TRUST  As our world accelerates at an unprecedented pace, one of the smartest things you can do is pause, says New York Times columnist and three-time Pulitzer Prize winner Thomas Friedman.

Humankind is living through what Friedman calls “one of the greatest inflection points in history.” It’s happening, he explained at the University of Maryland on Nov. 8, 2017, as the three biggest forces on the planet – Moore’s law (technology), the market (globalization) and Mother Nature (climate change) – gain speed at the same time. This quickening is dramatically altering our careers, communities, politics, geopolitics and our ethics.

“When you press the pause button on a computer, it stops,” said Friedman, quoting friend and mentor Dov Seidman, CEO of LRN. “But when you press the pause button on a human being, it starts.” Friedman, author of "Thank You for Being Late," was on campus this week as part of the Distinguished Speaker Series in International Business, hosted by the Robert H. Smith School of Business’s Center for Global Business and the College Park Business, Society & the Economy Scholars Program. 

“Mother nature, for me, is climate change, biodiversity loss and population growth in the developing world,” Friedman said Wednesday, Nov. 8, in a packed lecture hall at the Edward St. John Learning and Teaching Center. “If you put all of them on a graph, it looks like a hockey stick.” The average global temperature on a graph has the same hockey stick appearance, he added, updating the slide, as does the recorded incidents of extreme weather. The growth in world population through history, he said, is “the mother of all hockey sticks.”

“The market, for me, is globalization, but not your father’s globalization,” he said. It’s not the sea change that came as companies loaded cargo on container ships bound for distant shores in a boom of worldwide trade. Today’s globalization is digital, he said. It’s Amazon, Facebook, PayPal and more. Digital globalization, graphed, rises like a hockey stick, he showed, as does global data consumption per month.

Moore’s law meanwhile, the term coined in a 1965 paper by Gordon Moore, holds that the speed and power of microchips doubles roughly every every two years. For decades, analysts have predicted that technology advancement would slow from what they posited was an unsustainably fast pace. “And for 52 years, they have been wrong,” said Friedman, adding “Moore’s law is alive and well.”

“If you think the world is fast now, just wait until the end of the year,” he said.

He urged the students to remain lifelong learners if they want to remain relevant and employed throughout their working years. 

He called on them to treasure their membership in the human race and to take seriously their role as the “Noah generation” in the face of escalating climate risks, telling them, “You will be responsible for saving the last two pairs.”

The problems they will face, he told them, are not the problems of the future, not problems that can be addressed later, when it’s more convenient. “For you guys, later is officially now, because later will be too late,” he said.

He encouraged them to embrace the importance of community, which he said is becoming more important than ever as the world evolves from being not just interconnected but also interdependent.

“In an interdependent world, your rivals falling becomes more dangerous than your rivals rising. If China takes six more islands in the China Sea, personally, I couldn’t care less,” he said. “But if China loses 6 percent growth, this school and other schools will be cutting programs.”

Americans now live more than half their lives on the internet, he explained, citing recent research. It’s where we work, shop, bank, get a mortgage, connect with friends and family members, find love, plan vacations and so much more. “And at the same time, thanks to these accelerations, we are now standing as the human species at an intersection that we have never stood at before –  a moral intersection,” he said.

“In 1945, we entered a world, post-Hiroshima, where one country could kill all of us,” he said. “I think we are entering a world where one person can kill all of us. And where all of us could actually fix everything. All of us, if we put our minds to it, could actually feed, house, clothe and educate every person on the planet. We have never been to this intersection before.”

“What does that mean?” he asked. He paused. “It means that what every person thinks, believes and feels now really matters.”

In the first chapter of his latest book, Friedman explains its curious title. For years, driven to maximize every hour of the day, he has scheduled breakfast meetings with friends and professional contacts – government officials, analysts, diplomats and others. And sometimes, those breakfast companions would be late. The tardiness, he wrote, gave him a rare gift – a few unscheduled minutes for people-watching or contemplation. His breakfast partners would arrived, sputtering apologies and offering explanations for their delay. 

One particular morning, a delayed breakfast meeting gave him the time to thread together two ideas that he’d been struggling with. When his friend arrived, apologizing, he told him, genuinely, that the moments spent waiting were a gift, effusing, “Thank you for being late.”

“Nothing sums up better what I am trying to do with this book – to pause, to get off the merry-go-round on which I’ve been spinning for so many years as a twice-a-week columnist for The New York Times, and to reflect more deeply on what seems to me to be a fundamental turning point in history,” he writes in “Thank You.”



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