Borrowed Post

Just borrowed this write up from my old man. My head is practically dried-up of all it’s essences due to the compulsory Japanese report my “buchou” requires me to submit every month. Can’t write no more. This is all your fault oyabun! Or maybe my “ningas-kugon” attitude is kicking in? I hope not. I’ll remove this post as soon as I come up with something.

The world is down.

The headline is a steal. From Thomas Friedman’s award-winning book The World is Flat, winner of the Financial Times and Goldman Sachs Business Book of the Year in 2006. The book says that the technology has “flattened the world” and the playing field in carrying out the most important services to humankind is now even, from Bangalore to San Jose in California’s Silicon Valley.

Friedman’s thesis has critics, but the overwhelmingly positive reaction to the book had drowned much of the criticism. Even Paul Krugman, who, like Friedman writes for the op-ed of The New York Times, cannot seem to puncture the solid arguments laid down by Friedman in his book. Krugman does not see the world from the sunny perspective of Friedman and this is very apparent in his writings. While Friedman jets around the world in search of nuggets and boulders of innovation and unorthodoxy, which he turns into inspiring columns, Krugman sees corporate stick-ups, the wretched side of trade liberalization and the deep problems of emerging democracies. Up to now, Krugman cannot seem to muster the courage—or come out with more powerful arguments—to contradict Friedman’s assertion on the flattening of the world.

It was neither a powerful argument nor a superior idea that tore a hole into Friedman’s thesis late December while millions of Internet users in Asia were surfing for Yuletide bargains or exchanging joyous e-mails. What did this was a strong earthquake that rocked Taiwan, the country nearest to us (Formosa is just 180 miles off Batanes province). As the fault lines down deep moved perhaps by a few inches or so, the optic-fiber cables underneath were similarly upset. The result was a technological nightmare of Biblical proportion: disrupted Internet services, patchy phone services, an IT infrastructure turned upside down.

E-tickets cannot be booked. Banking returned to pre-industrial age slowness. Millions of Internet dependent young men and women in the Asian region dying of boredom. The economic loss from the disarrayed cables was immense and so was the assault on the now complacent psyche of the young Asians. For a very rare moment, the most articulate public faces of Google and Microsoft were unable to say something of the disruptive force—primal and unpredictable—that shook the fiber-optic cables in the Asian seabed.

The Taiwan quake has shaken the confidence previously vested on the most impressive technologies in the world. Breakthrough technologies from IT really changed the way the world interacted and with this came the attendant awe and respect that it genuinely deserved. But the Taiwan quake shattered that confidence and sense of awe. It also reaffirmed an old truth. This the unquestioned primacy of nature’s fury in the world are all puny in the hands an inch-long movement in the fault lines of the seabed. Nature has reasserted its superior might anew. The world is no longer flat.

The world is down. Or, it simply crashed.

Of course, the sense of panic was least felt in the Philippines. Of all the Asian countries affected by the disarray in the optic cables, only the Philippines suffered the most bearable of inconveniences. The usually agitated punditry even failed to raise a holler and ask the elementary questions. The blogs and the chat rooms discussed it in detail but there was none of the explosive disappointment publicly conveyed by public and private sectors throughout Southeast Asia. The self-proclaimed wise men of radio did not even realize that something in the IT universe went askew.

But is this least of unease something to be proud of?

The absence of panic in the Philippines over the cables that tripped should alarm, not please, private- and public-sector leaders. It reveals many things. First, we are not really part of the cyber mainstream. Second, we are still a bumpy hump in a world already flattened by technological innovations. Third, our leaders do not really care about full integration and immersion into the E-world. As for the third reason, it does not take a genius to figure out why. A fully automated world cannot produce the likes of Garci and the sham computing that is being done every election season from time immemorial.

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