Communications hosts Q-A
session with Thomas Friedman


New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman, a three-time recipient of the Pulitzer Prize, was the star of a School of Communications-sponsored question-and-answer session Sept. 29, before offering the Baird Pulitzer Prize Lecture at 6 p.m. in the Koury Center.

Friedman focused on globalization during the hour-long session in Whitley Auditorium. Many of the students in the audience had read his book on globalization, "The Lexus and the Olive Tree," and hands shot up all over the auditorium every time there was an opportunity to probe the author about his book. Dr. Connie Book was the discussion leader for the session.

Friedman explained to the audience of 250 that this era of expansion is based on technology.

"The first era of globalization was based on falling transportation costs - railroads, shipping," Friedman said of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. "Our era is based on something different: falling telecommunications costs have made it possible to grow like never before."

While technology has brought the people of the world closer together, Friedman says we must be careful how we use it. "Technology has made it so much easier for us to talk to each other, but the framework to understanding each other can't be downloaded. It has to be uploaded, through things like study abroad and internships," Friedman said. "One of the paradoxes of the internet is that rather than promoting understanding, it's just raising the world's blood pressure."

Friedman, foreign affairs columnist for the Times since 1995, said the United States' exponential growth since the fall of the Berlin Wall, as both a military and economic superpower, made its influence felt in a way never seen before.

"We have grown so rapidly that we've begun to touch people's lives, culturally and economically, more than their own governments," Friedman said. As a result, America was seen differently by the rest of the world after the September 11 terrorist attacks and the subsequent invasion of Iraq.

"After 9/11, we went from being Puff the Magic Dragon to Godzilla," Friedman said, adding that the UN debate over Iraq was seen by many other nations as a battle over which nations would have a vote in the future of people worldwide, rather than the threat of Saddam Hussein's potential weapons of mass destruction.

Asked if he aspires to political office, Friedman says he loves being a journalist and columnist and the freedom of speech that comes with it.

"When you've been able to say it exactly the way you want to say it, in 750 newspapers around the world, to have to say 'no comment' or 'let me look into that,'...I can't imagine that," he said. "I'm a journalist, and I really love what I do. Its the most fun you can have legally that I know of."

Despite the inherent positives of a common computer-based bond thanks to new technologies, Friedman said the world's "framework is lagging way behind."

"On a good day, the Internet is an open sore," he said. "We don't have the filters to sift it out, so we actually create some distance. But the upside is this: I look at the Internet as a big piece of flatbread and cultures can put anything they want on it." He added that each culture must add its own ingredient because globalization is no longer a mere possibility or distant vision. It is happening. "I didn't start it, and I can't stop it," he said. "You're not doing it, I'm not doing it, but people out there are feeling it and worrying about their olive trees."

Friedman argued for a "sustainable globalization" in which all societies travel one road en route to a healthier society that maintains the olive tree but manages to advance economically.

"If the olive tree ends up getting disrooted because of globalization, that's a really unhealthy thing," he said. "You can't have a stable country if there are no roots and the tree doesn't bear fruit. You have to find a balance. I do believe there's one road, but I think there are many speeds. The trick is not going too fast or too slow."

(Compiled from University Relations and student reports.)




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Last Modified:  10/01/03
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