The first impression I got after reading the book is “Yes. The world is flat – but it would be only for those who can speak English.”
I have an experience working with a software company in India (the same company argued in the book). Although they have superior technology and cost advantage, the project failed after several months of struggle. It was basically language and cultural problem. The Indian company assigned an Indian person who “speaks” Japanese, but his Japanese was limited and in the end we needed to communicate in English.
When we develop a software, the first task is “requirement definition”, which is to define how the software should work. Indian company is really good at the software development AFTER the “requirement definition”, but we could not reach to that point.
The experience always reminds me of a film title, “Lost In Translation”. Indeed, things are easily lost in translation. It is difficult to let software company know what you expect even when both parties speak the same language. You can imagine how hard it is with different language. I believe the high-level managements whom Thomas Friedman interviewed was telling what they believe is true. However, there’s always a possibility of different story going on in the real world.
Also it is true that the technology such as the Internet and web2.0 shorten the distance. However, ordinary Japanese people can’t understand English. Even if English web site is available in front of him/her, he/she can’t understand it anyway.
Translation software, at least at current level, does not help a lot.
“Please have keeping about the written guarantee and the receipt when it buys it to receive the guarantee appropriately. When it will correspond at the customer caring center, it needs it.”
This is a sample of “English” I just got at a web page with translation service. You may understand the intention, but it is very hard and takes time to read it. As far as I remember the quality of computer translation has not significantly improved for these 20 years.
In short, even the information, job and services can be ubiquitous in today’s world, there’s always the limitation of accessibility due to the INTERFACE for non English natives.
In other words, the “Flat” world would be the one where the difference of interface matters much more than physical distance.