While I Was Sleeping
Your Highnesses, as Catholic Christians, and princes who
love and promote the holy Christian faith, and are enemies of the doctrine
of Mahomet, and of all idolatry and heresy, determined to send me,
Christopher Columbus, to the above-mentioned countries of India, to see the
said princes, people, and territories, and to learn their disposition and
the proper method of converting them to our holy faith; and furthermore
directed that I should not proceed by land to the East, as is customary, but
by a Westerly route, in which direction we have hitherto no certain evidence
that anyone has gone.
-- Entry from the journal of Christopher Columbus on his voyage of 1492.
No one ever gave me directions like this on a golf course before: "Aim at either
Microsoft or IBM." I was standing on the first tee at the KGA Golf Club in
downtown Bangalore, in southern India, when my playing partner pointed at two
shiny glass-and-steel buildings off in the distance, just behind the first
green. The Goldman Sachs building wasnt done yet; otherwise he could have
pointed that out as well and made it a threesome. HP and Texas Instruments had
their offices on the back nine, along the tenth hole. That wasnt all. The tee
markers were from Epson, the printer company, and one of our caddies was wearing
a hat from 3M. Outside, some of the traffic signs were also sponsored by Texas
Instruments, and the Pizza Hut billboard on the way over showed a steaming
pizza, under the headline "Gigabites of Taste!"
No, this definitely wasnt Kansas. It didnt even seem like India. Was this the New World, the Old World, or the Next World?
I had come to Bangalore, Indias Silicon Valley, on my own Columbus-like journey of exploration. Columbus sailed with the Niña, the Pinta, and the Santa María in an effort to discover a shorter, more direct route to India by heading west, across the Atlantic, on what he presumed to be an open sea route to the East Indiesrather than going south and east around Africa, as Portuguese explorers of his day were trying to do. India and the magical Spice Islands of the East were famed at the time for their gold, pearls, gems, and silka source of untold riches. Finding this shortcut by sea to India, at a time when the Muslim powers of the day had blocked the overland routes from Europe, was a way for both Columbus and the Spanish monarchy to become wealthy and powerful. When Columbus set sail, he apparently assumed the Earth was round, which was why he was convinced that he could get to India by going west. He miscalculated the distance, though. He thought the Earth was a smaller sphere than it is. He also did not anticipate running into a landmass before he reached the East Indies. Nevertheless, he called the aboriginal peoples he encountered in the new world "Indians." Returning home, though, Columbus was able to tell his patrons, King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella, that although he never did find India, he could confirm that the world was indeed round.
I set out for India by going due east, via Frankfurt. I had Lufthansa business class. I knew exactly which direction I was going thanks to the GPS map displayed on the screen that popped out of the armrest of my airline seat. I landed safely and on schedule. I too encountered people called Indians. I too was searching for the source of Indias riches. Columbus was searching for hardwareprecious metals, silk, and spicesthe source of wealth in his day. I was searching for software, brainpower, complex algorithms, knowledge workers, call centers, transmission protocols, breakthroughs in optical engineeringthe sources of wealth in our day. Columbus was happy to make the Indians her met his slaves, a pool of free manual labor.
Excerpt from The World Is Flat by Thomas L. Friedman. Copyright © 2005 by Thomas L. Friedman. To be published in April 2005 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux, LLC. All rights reserved.
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