A large audience came to the Leighton Concert Hall on November 3 to hear Thomas Friedman contribute his perspective to this year’s forum, the Global Marketplace and the Common Good. Norah O’Donnell of NBC News moderated the affair.

Friedman, a triple recipient of the Pulitzer Prize, writes for the New York Times and has published several books, including THE WORLD IS FLAT and THE LEXUS AND THE OLIVE TREE. Friedman has investigated and written on globalization, economics, religious fundamentalism, and terrorism.

University President Rev. John Jenkins opened the event. 

“Notre Dame’s forums strive to bring together the highest scholarship across the discipline with the resources of a moral and religious tradition to address the great issues of our day,” he said. 

Fr. Jenkins said that while “globalization is in many ways a violent process,” at the same time, it allows millions “to move out of the shadow of rural poverty into the urban middle class.”

Father Jenkins framed the discussion with the questions, “What is genuine human progress, and how do we assess it?” and “What ends ought our economic structures to serve?” before turning the stage over to Friedman.

Friedman said his work on a documentary in Bangalore showed him other side of outsourcing.  He said that his work revealed both that “the global economic playing field is being leveled ” and that Americans are unprepared.

Friedman then stated that the world is flat. In other words, the advancement of technology has enabled a worldwide connectivity between peoples, whereby each person potentially has access to the same information as every other one. This “going global” occurred in three stages: first, functioning through countries, then through companies, and now, lastly, through individuals.

In this new world of omnipresent communication, he cautioned, how you live your life takes on a whole new meaning, as your actions are constantly leaving digital footprints that can never be swept away. “Privacy is over,” he lamented. “Your reputation on Google precedes you, and is there forever.”

Parallel to this concern is Friedman’s fear that “when the public gets that scary,” good people will be difficult to attract to the political sphere. The dishonorable accuser has colossal power, and one libelous rumor can circle the globe in a matter of hours.

Friedman empathized with Obama’s struggle with this negative publicity.

“I’m sure there are nights when (Obama) goes home and goes into the closet and he just screams with anger about stuff that is written about him,” he said. 

Friedman said that people commonly ask him, “Where does God fit in to all this?” In his view, “We make God present by our own actions, our own choices, and our own decisions…To have God in the room with you, whether it’s a real room, or a chat room, you have to bring Him there yourself.”

Another common question posed, Friedman said, is, “How do I prepare my kid for this world?” Friedman said society has both a moral obligation and an economic interest in raising children correctly. He believes that, the more wired the world, the more important old-fashioned values become. 

“The internet is an open sewer of untreated, unfiltered information,” he said.  Friedman claimed that we need to hold fast to “all the stuff that happens under the olive tree, that can’t be downloaded.”

Friedman said we need to build ethical filters into children.  He expressed a desire to have a warning from the surgeon general on every modem that reads, “’Judgment not included.’ You cannot download that. You have to upload it.” He claimed good parenting should take care of 95 percent of the job.

During the question and answer period, Dean Woo brought up the recent election. Friedman said he did not follow the election at all and viewed it as totally irrelevant.

“Do you people live in a gated community in an island offshore?” he asked.  He contrasted the United States with China.  He asserted that China is a community that is able to act collectively and with impressive results.

In order to change the sad state of current affairs, Friedman advised, “Get out of Facebook, and into somebody’s face.”

Katie Petrik is a junior PLS and Arabic major, and can be reached at kpetrik@nd.edu. She has delusions of adequacy.

Laura Lindlsey is a senior PLS major and vice-president emerita of Ladies Who Lunch, Inc.