Thank you for being late - a review
Back in the late 1990s, it appeared that capitalism had triumphed and was ushering in what Francis Fukuyama described as “the end of history”. Liberal democracy was on the march. So too the Internet and a Silicon Valley-fuelled dot com bubble. Into this environment, New York Times’ columnist Thomas Friedman penned The Lexus and the Olive Tree, a love letter to America and its booming industries, open markets and transparent institutions.
In his latest work, Thank you for being late, Friedman acknowledges the added complexity of the world, in an “age of accelerations” that he dates to 2007, a year that gave us Twitter, iPhone, Android and Kindle, among others. Friedman makes some insightful observations , such as when he links global warming to the conflict in Syria, where drought resulted in food riots and demonstrations. The subsequent government crackdown kick-started the civil war.
Yet, despite these occasional tidbits, Friedman's is a very flawed book indeed, both in terms of substance and style. While the deficiencies in the Anglo-American capitalist system were laid bare in the 2007-8 financial crash, no one has seemed to have told Freidman. The fact that a demagogue is in power in the US is not of great concern to him. That the tech bubble burst doesn’t dent Friedman's trust in whatever the Googles and Amazons next have in store for us. Governments must become Silicon Valley startups, for good or ill, regardless of what blind faith in the market has taught us.
Friedman’s long-winded and obsessive acquiescence to anecdotes and analogy, and what Slate’s Justin Peters describes as “corny language”, makes not only his underwhelming prescriptions anti-climatic, but a chore to follow.
“Friedman takes almost 500 pages to deliver [his solutions]. He says lots of other stuff, too, like “Mother Nature believes in lifelong learning,” and “By leveraging the supernova you can do so much more now with so little,” and “For my money, naïveté is the new realism.” What, exactly, does that mean? I didn’t know, either. I had to read it again, which became my habit as I worked through all the whole thing. The world might be fast, but this particular book went by very, very slow.”
Like Peters, the only thing I was left thankful for was the ending.