Book Review: Thank You for Being Late, by Thomas Friedman

The word “optimist” in the subtitle is very well earned here. Friedman’s book explains why/how someone can hope that the same technologies and macro-trends that are leading to hyper-nationalism, extreme divisiveness, and massive pollution might actually be harnessed for good. He tells that story with his typical great story telling and insightful anecdotes.

As usual I found a bunch of tidbits interesting and had a few realizations while reading the book that I’ll just list here:

  • One of the points that’s made over and over again that resonated with me is how fast technology is moving and how slow our institutions (particularly laws) are adapting to it. Especially since those technologies are contributing to the gridlock that’s keeping us from effectively regulating them (let alone adopting them for public purposes).
  • I found interesting that Friedman suggests his hometown in Wisconsin as a place well suited to adapt to the new world, mostly because of the strong community and the small size enabling a single suburb to really make it theirs. I understood the argument, but couldn’t help thinking that I’m glad I live in New York City… the combination of wealth and bright people I think will help push our leaders to adopt new advances more quickly in spite of our large size and less than community feel.
  • We’ve all heard Moore’s law, but I thought this explanation of just how fast computing power has grown to be compelling: “If a 1971 Volkswagen Beetle improved at the same rate as microchips did… In 2015 that Beetle could go 300,000 mph, get 2,000,000 mpg, and would cost $0.04.”
  • He makes a compelling argument for us entering the “cognitive” era of computing. While I still think this will be slower to take hold than people expect, it is fascinating that we have enough compute power now to just throw a bunch of data at the cloud and let the computers sort out if it means anything and what it means (as opposed to old school computing where you gave it an algorithm to make sense of the data with).
  • Since the book is optimitistic it makes the point that while artificial intelligence will do a lot of what we do for jobs today, that is likely to actually lead to more jobs. He brings up the example of automation in the textile industry. It actually caused MORE people to be employed making clothes because the price dropped so far that individuals owned more (far more) than one set of clothes.