Columnist Thomas L. Friedman, the author of a series of provocative books, has authored another timely one with his Thank You for Being Late: An Optimist’s Guide to Thriving in the Age of Acceleration (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2016). He provides this brief statement about the book’s purpose: “In short, this book is one giant column about the world today. It aims to define the key forces that are driving change around the world, to explain how they are affecting different people and cultures, and to identify what I believe to be the values and responses most appropriate to managing these forces, in order to get the most out of them fir the most people in the most places and to cushion their harshest impacts” (p. 15). If we could locate someone in the Trump administration who actually reads, this would be a recommended reading.
In this long, richly textured tome, Friedman examines the primary drivers in the world economy, namely the market, nature (principally climate change), and the increasing power of digital technology at ever declining cost (Moore’s law). Unlike those now setting the agenda in Washington, D.C., Friedman looks ahead, trying to find positive ways of grappling with the many problems that come with a world changing at ever accelerating speed.
Friedman has a lot to say about the role of information technology. At one point, he reflects that it takes five to fifteen years for new laws and regulations to safeguard society from some of the new technologies, but by then these technologies may have come and gone. In characteristic fashion, Friedman states, “This is a problem” (p. 33). He also muses about the challenges of having algorithms in charge of everything, rather than people, an issue connected to our continuing fascination with Big Data.
However, it is not what he says about technology that is important, in my opinion. It is an argument that we need to pause and reflect – think – about the issues confronting us. Technology has become a tool for distracting us. We need to work on the ethical, moral, and legal issues we encounter – and there is no time like the present for us to reboot ourselves. This explains his book’s title – take a little extra time before plunging into the next meeting, scrolling through the Web, or taking on the next project.