Reviews and Excerpts

Thank You for Being Late: An Optimist's Guide to Thriving in the Age of Accelerations

Author: Thomas L. Friedman
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux; First Edition edition (November 22, 2016)

Review by Fabrizio Bocci

In work, in private life, in society, we are in the middle of a big and uncontrolled transformation. We have a dizzy feeling because the pace of this change is too fast, and its outcomes are indefinite. The questions we ask ourselves are “what’s going on?” and “where will we end up?”. It seems that everything is questioned and is ineluctably out of control, adrift. What to do to avoid being overwhelmed by events?

If you, like me, feel that the world is accelerating in an impressive way and you cannot get to the bottom of the causes, this is the book for you.

The book is an in-depth and holistic reflection on contemporary reality that is in one of the fundamental turning points in history. The author defines it as “a giant column about the world today”. I would define it as a powerful fresco of today’s reality where representation can bring out details and meanings that, immersed in the reality, escaped us.

For Friedman three biggest forces are shaping the world today: technology, globalization and climate change. They are all accelerating at once and interacting intimately with each other. To understand what is happening, or in other words, how the Machine works, all three forces must be considered jointly. For istance, for the author, ” the only way you will understand the changing nature of geopolitics today is if you meld what is happening in computing with what is happening in telecommunications with what is happening in the environment with what is happening in globalization with what is happening in demographics. There is no other way today to develop a fully rounded picture”.

We are in the Age of Accelerations. Human beings are adaptable creatures, but today their ability to adapt has been overwhelmed by the speed of change impressed by the exponential acceleration of these forces. The ability to adapt is even more critical when we move from individuals to institutions. For instance, at European level, institutions are still discussing, without any evident coordination, on how to manage and regulate the Uber phenomenon while self-driving cars are already around the corner.

The book is divided into four parts. In the first part, “Reflecting“, Friedman, a great New York Times columnist who for years produced a couple of editorials a week, explains what prompted him to stop and reflect and what questions he asked himself. It is the introduction to the topics covered in the book. In the second part, “Accelerating,” composed of five chapters, Friedman analyzes in detail the three forces, their acceleration and interaction, and the exponential acceleration impressed to the “Machine”. The third part “Innovating“, composed of seven chapters, “is about these accelerating forces affecting people and cultures. That is, how they are reshaping the workplace, geopolitics, politics, ethical choices and communities “, quoting Friedman’s words. The final “Anchoring” can be considered as an afterword by the author who, like any great columnist, summarizes the topics covered and draws the final conclusions.

Friedman’s capacity of analysis is as extraordinary as his narrative. If only some politicians, or some academics, at international level, would possess the breadth of his insight! Friedman defines himself as an explanatory journalist who loves translating from English to English. He provides us with a few keys for interpreting what is happening and what could happen if we cover our eyes and do not change our approach. They are clear and simple: World Order and Disorder, Supernova, Super-Empowered Individuals, transforming artificial intelligence into intelligent assistance, just to name a few.

His excellence in analysis is only partially confirmed in the recipes Friedman offers us. In “Mother Nature as a political mentor” chapter, Friedman shifts from being a citizen of the world to being a citizen of the United States. Some proposals are broad, others focus just on specific details of the American reality. It is certainly not easy to formulate convincing proposals and solutions by living in a world “where one of us could kill all of us and all of us could fix everything if we really decided to do so”.

Two small negative notes. The first is a venial sin: even Friedman lets himself be seduced, by quoting them, from the considerations of Bessen on the ATM (1), considerations that lack a real factual support. The second is the excessive dwelling upon the description of the moral evolution of the town of St. Louis Park from the post-war period until today. But they are only small details in an overall extremely suggestive and rare intensity.

I confess I was a little hesitant to buy this book written by a “Foreign Affairs” columnist of The New York Times. Then reading the introduction on Amazon.com I got convinced and bought it. Good decision. I think it is one of the most intense and illuminating book I have ever read.

Notes
(1) James Bessen “Learning by Doing: The Real Connection between Innovation, Wages, and Wealth” (2015).