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Tom Freidman and Language
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Matt Yglesias links to this review of Tom Friedman's new globalization book The World is Flat.

The review is hilarious, mostly picking on Friedman's language and use of metaphor. For example:

Friedman is such a genius of literary incompetence that even his most innocent passages invite feature-length essays. I'll give you an example, drawn at random from The World Is Flat. On page 174, Friedman is describing a flight he took on Southwest Airlines from Baltimore to Hartford, Connecticut. (Friedman never forgets to name the company or the brand name; if he had written The Metamorphosis, Gregor Samsa would have awoken from uneasy dreams in a Sealy Posturepedic.) Here's what he says:

I stomped off, went through security, bought a Cinnabon, and glumly sat at the back of the B line, waiting to be herded on board so that I could hunt for space in the overhead bins.

Forget the Cinnabon. Name me a herd animal that hunts. Name me one.

Well, predators can still be herded, and herd animals can still hunt for things. These descriptions sound a little awkward, but the reviewer, Matt Taibbi, just loves to tear into a little Friedman, and is unrelenting. I'm a little more forgiving, but it's still funny as hell. Here's the closing, starting with another quotation from Friedman:

And now the icing on the cake, the ubersteroid that makes it all mobile: wireless. Wireless is what allows you to take everything that has been digitized, made virtual and personal, and do it from anywhere.

Ladies and gentlemen, I bring you a Thomas Friedman metaphor, a set of upside-down antlers with four thousand points: the icing on your uber-steroid-flattener-cake!

Let's speak Friedmanese for a moment and examine just a few of the notches on these antlers (Friedman, incidentally, measures the flattening of the world in notches, i.e. "The flattening process had to go another notch"; I'm not sure where the notches go in the flat plane, but there they are.) Flattener #1 is actually two flatteners, the collapse of the Berlin Wall and the spread of the Windows operating system. In a Friedman book, the reader naturally seizes up in dread the instant a suggestive word like "Windows" is introduced; you wince, knowing what's coming, the same way you do when Leslie Nielsen orders a Black Russian. And Friedman doesn't disappoint. His description of the early 90s:

The walls had fallen down and the Windows had opened, making the world much flatter than it had ever been...but the age of seamless global communication had not yet dawned.

How the fuck do you open a window in a fallen wall? More to the point, why would you open a window in a fallen wall? Or did the walls somehow fall in such a way that they left the windows floating in place to be opened?

Four hundred and 73 pages of this, folks. Is there no God?


Just to quibble, I don't have a problem with Friedman saying "The walls had fallen down and the Windows had opened". This doesn't mean that the windows were in the walls.
On the contrary. It is easy to imagine neighbors living side by side, with a wall between them, and to imagine the wall falling down, and the neighbors opening the windows to their houses to begin talking to one another.

Still, the whole review is funny...have a look.

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