At Heathrow Airport in 2005, I was waiting to make my first trip to India. Looking in the book shop for something to read on the flight, I noticed ‘The World is Flat’ by Thomas Friedman on the best sellers list. It was described as a book about ‘How digital culture and globalization was making the world into a flat playing-field in which all companies and countries could compete and collaborate.’ I was making the trip to India to explore outsourcing some software design so it seemed both relevant and interesting. In the first irony of the trip, I made the purchase from Borders Bookshop.
I was flying to Mumbai and the book is a pretty easy read so I had covered most of it by the time I landed. At Mumbai, I found my way through the airport, got in a taxi to my hotel. (I am making this far easier and quicker than it was and will return to the delights of Indian airports at another time). I had deliberately left myself a day to do some sight-seeing as it was my first trip, so I went to bed in my air-conditioned hotel and rose the next day refreshed and revived.
Dressed in my chinos and t-shirt I decided to go for a walk. The Doorman at the Taj Hotel duly asked me, ‘Would you like a taxi, sir?’ I replied smiling ‘No thanks, I like to walk.’ He opened the door to the outside world, giving me a look that basically sang ‘Mad dogs and Englishman go out in the midday sun’ with his eyes. In my mind, I was immune to the 90 degree heat and 95% humidity, after all, I was British!
20 minutes later I returned, looking like I had fallen in a swimming pool. I promptly went upstairs, showered, changed and tried to pretend none of this had happened as I confirmed to the Doorman that, unlike my stupid twin brother, I would in fact like an air-conditioned taxi to take me sightseeing.
As in so many developed countries, traffic lights are the equivalent of a shopping mall for street vendors, usually children. Tapping on the window, they were offering razors, chewing gum, apples and surprisingly books. I rolled down my window, and this kid offered me the usual run of classic paperbacks, like Dickens and James Bond but the last one he offered me was ‘The World is Flat’. So 24 hours after buying the book at Heathrow, fresh off the best-sellers list from a multinational company, I bought a second copy at a fraction of the price from a grinning 8 year old child in the streets of Mumbai.
Maybe the world really was becoming flat?