The World Really is Flat, Part I: From Shanghai to Perrysburg in One Day

Posted by J Matthew Buchanan at December 12, 2005 07:07 AM

Recognition of a major change has to be, of course, the first step in taking advantage of it.  Often times, you read or hear about a major change in your world but, without personal experience that allows you to recognize the change as real, you wonder if it’s actually happening or if certain people just think that it’s happening.  You may even grow a bit cynical and start to believe that certain people just hope that the change is happening.


That’s where I started with the concept of the flat world.  I had heard about it and read about it, but had no personal experience that allowed me to truly recognize that the change was in process.  As a result, I had little interest in the concept and, perhaps, a little disbelief.


Then, out of nowhere, a brick hit me in the head and suddenly I realized that major change was indeed underway.  After that, I saw the flat world in everything around me, much like you seem to hear a particular word more often after actually learning its meaning.


Here’s the story. 


I had ordered a new ThinkPad X41 TabletPC (which, by the way, is the best computer I have ever owned…despite a few hard drive issues).  I’m like a kid on Christmas morning when I have a new tech toy on order…I just can’t wait.  I checked the status of the order each morning and was disappointed to learn that there was about a two week backorder.  Rats.


Finally, I was rewarded one morning when I received an e-mail telling me that my order had been shipped and that I could track it on the UPS web site.  Great, I thought…we’re entering stage two.


I immediately clicked the tracking link and was excited to see that the package was ready for shipment, straight from China.  Rats.  Probably another two weeks.


Here’s the brick.  The next morning, told me that the package was here and ready for delivery.  Holy Toledo!  One day?  Sure enough, at 9:20 AM, the man in the brown shorts delivered my new toy, er, business tool, straight from Shanghai.


Twif_ontimeThat’s right.  The computer travelled from Shanghai, China to Perrysburg, OH in a day.


Now, I know there's an international date line in there somewhere, and at least one of my fellow rethinkers believes there is funny business in the whole package tracking thing, but, no matter, the effect was the same -- the computer arrived one day after I was told it was shipped.  Very cool.


(imagine the effect had Lenovo/IBM been able to get rid of the two week backorder!)


I tore into the package even before the man in the brown shorts left.  As I tossed the instruction manual aside, the realization hit me -- the world really is flat.  The day before, a Chinese worker had held the computer in his hands as he packed it for shipment.  Now I've got it and it's ready for business.


Suddenly I believed that the flattening of the world…the change…was indeed in process.  I couldn’t ignore it anymore because this one simple example had given me the personal experience that allowed me to realize that.


I wondered about the reason for my initial disinterest and disbelief -- this is the only rational explanation I can offer.  I was born and raised in the American Midwest, where manufacturing is King.  I suspect that my initial disinterest in the change to a flat world was at least partially due to a knee-jerk reaction that a lot of people have in these parts of the country.  The reaction is based purely on fear.  Fear of outsourcing, off-shoring and the loss of manufacturing jobs, good manufacturing jobs.


But the computer experience had changed something because the knee-jerk reaction seemed to be gone.  Now I had the experience I needed to believe in the change, which, of course, gave me the desire to figure out how to plan for and take advantage of it.

Comments (6) | TrackBacks (1) trackback

Related Articles:
The World Really is Flat, Part II: Now that it's flat, all sailing is smooth, right?
The world really is flat
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Remember my story about the new IBM (Lenovo) X41 Tablet that I bought?  I relayed the story in last week's post to The World Really is Flat series.  Here's the punch-line -- the computer, once shipped, travelled from Shanghai, China...

Trackbacked from The World Really is Flat, Part II: Now that it's flat, all sailing is smooth, right? on Rethink(IP).


MT Says:

December 12, 2005 04:10 PM

Flat? Is that supposed to be a metaphor? I so don't see the relationship to what is being talked about. Maybe it's not supposed to work on natural science types.

Scott Allred Says:

December 12, 2005 05:22 PM

Well, you've done it! I've been lurking around your blog for about a year (it's my favorite IP blog by far) and you've sparked a comment from me.

The world is indeed becoming flat, but I'm not convinced it's there just yet. (I havn't read the Friedman book yet). It's flattening at a pace that we American's are not really aware of. We see the initial effects of outsoucing (the loss of jobs etc) and it gets our cackles up. Heck, I was directly affected by it and would love to harbor a grudge. We love to point out the outsourcing failures so we can say "see, we told you it was a bad idea!"

But I don't harbor a grudge, and am glad in fact. We're feeling the growing pains of a free market that is expanding. The engineering world is in an uproar right now as we watch our American domination threatened. The article in Desing News is an excellent attributation (available at It not only affects design engineers, but as mentioned in the article, our superiority at generating and capitalizing intellectual property. The Chinese are hungry for it, and they want to own it.

Like you mentioned, we MUST figure out how to capatalize on the opportunities which will present themselves as this flattening unfurls. Our 401K's may just be at risk. (Pray we dont opt for protectionism.)

I've been an electrical engineer for 12 years. I've seen things come and go, and am quite frankly quite concerned about how America will adapt to this one. I'm going to law school in the fall (we'll see where) because I think that's going to be a huge opportunity area in the future, but probably not the way the industry currently concieves it. I'll probably take as many international comparative courses as I do IP courses.

I can't wait for the rest of your posts on the subject (and my turn at Friedmans book to from the library). Keep up the good work, it's an inspiration to soon to be budding IP Attorney.


Nipper Says:

December 12, 2005 09:33 PM


In my opinion, the "flat" concept is Friedman's way of saying the world is getting smaller. His view is that technology, whether it be ships, or steam engines, or the Internet, keeps making the world smaller and smaller and removes barriers to competing in the global economy. The Internet allowing China, India and Eastern Europe to join the world economy now. Thus...the world is getting "flatter."


J. Matthew Buchanan Says:

December 12, 2005 10:06 PM


I agree with Steve...I think "flat" really relates to the idea that the world is getting smaller. When I read Friedman's book, I looked at it somewhat metaphorically. To me, the "flat" world is one that exists on one plane instead of on a curve or circumference. In the flat world, someone sitting in Perrysburg, OH can "see" someone sitting in Shanghai, China because we are on the same plane. I couldn't do this in a round world. Taking that metaphor even farther, businesses in Perrysburg, OH can see businesses in Shanghai, China.

Ultimately, I think the broad concept of the flat world is one in which business relationships are no longer limited by geographic boundaries of any sort. All of this, of course, is enabled by the development of a critical technological mass, such as broadband internet access and related technologies.

Thanks for the comment and the interest. I hope this explanation helps, and that you enjoy the rest of the posts on the topic.


J. Matthew Buchanan Says:

December 12, 2005 10:20 PM


Thanks for the comment and the interest. I recommend the Friedman book whole-heartedly. It's a great introduction to the concept of the flat world, and the technologies that have/are enabling the flattening of the world.

Fear, of course, is a natural reaction. Most people in my parts are very concerned...they have been raised on the promise of lifetime employment and pension-type benefits and bet their lives on these ideals. In that context, it's easy to understand their fear of a flat world.

Opportunity is more difficult to see. In the case of the flat world, I think many people don't see the opportunities presented by the flat world because of their fear. The point of the first article was to show that a simple personal experience allowed me to get past the initial knee-jerk reaction of fear, and now I am able to see opportunity.

Again, thanks for the comment. I hope you enjoy the future articles. Good luck in law school, and please keep commenting!


Tapsearch Com Editor Says:

July 22, 2006 12:53 PM

Tapart News and Art that Talks Editor and Artist explores the upside down Flat World of Thomas Friedman with its own "flatteners" at
Friedman plays on the phrase "level playing fields" which is used in Globalization and Free Trade debates. He colors it with his own color which is based on his imagination rather than any common sense order of things. He makes history more of an art than a science. He is an evangelist for the Free Trader elite. See
These sites are based on the real world from the streets of USA by those who did the walk before they did the talk.

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