Fabulously wealthy CEO whisperer and newspaper columnist Thomas Friedman is little more than a human-shaped random word generator programmed with the "Computers and Internet" section of a fourth-grade vocabulary textbook and fitted with a mustache. He writes one single column, sometimes using different proper nouns or cycling through slightly new platitudes, in order to allow a new headline to be written. The Only Thomas Friedman Column That Exists—which ran right on schedule yesterday—opens like this:
TRAVELING in Europe last week, it seemed as if every other conversation ended with some form of this question: Why does it feel like so few leaders are capable of inspiring their people to meet the challenges of our day?
Whether traveling in Europe or Israel or Pakistan or The Arab Street, Thomas Friedman has astoundingly boring conversations with people who speak in vague, nonsensical phrases. He continues:
There are many explanations for this global leadership deficit, but I'd focus on two: one generational, one technological.
"There are many explanations for [broad phenomenon], but I'd focus on two: one [generational, cultural, or sociological], one [technological, biological, scientific, or economic]." Thomas Friedman knows how to write a freshman-year research paper at the last minute.
Let's start with the technological. In 1965, Gordon Moore, the Intel co-founder, posited Moore's Law, which stipulated that the processing power that could be placed on a single microchip would double every 18 to 24 months... I'm wondering if there isn't a political corollary to Moore's Law: The quality of political leadership declines with every 100 million new users of Facebook and Twitter.
The answer is no.
The wiring of the world through social media and Web-enabled cellphones is changing the nature of conversations between leaders and the led everywhere. We're going from largely one-way conversations - top-down - to overwhelmingly two-way conversations - bottom-up and top-down. This has many upsides: more participation, more innovation and more transparency. But can there be such a thing as too much participation - leaders listening to so many voices all the time and tracking the trends that they become prisoners of them?
This, the paragraph in which several computer-related buzzwords are followed by an elementary conclusion delivered in a tone reverent enough to impress someone whose news diet does not consist of anything more substantial than Thomas Friedman columns, is an absolutely necessary ingredient in any Thomas Friedman column. It comes standard, like the salmonella in a poorly cooked chicken sandwich.
Indeed, I heard a new word in London last week: "Popularism." It's the über-ideology of our day.
Thomas Friedman heard a new word last week. That word is now the uber-ideology of our day. It has become so in just one week, apparently! Amazing how fast things move in these days of social media and Web-enabled cellphones.
Anyone with a cellphone today is paparazzi; anyone with a Twitter account is a reporter; anyone with YouTube access is a filmmaker. When everyone is a paparazzi, reporter and filmmaker, everyone else is a public figure. And, if you're truly a public figure - a politician - the scrutiny can become so unpleasant that public life becomes something to be avoided at all costs. Alexander Downer, Australia's former foreign minister, remarked to me recently: "A lot of leaders are coming under massively more scrutiny than ever before. It doesn't discourage the best of them, but the ridicule and the constant interaction from the public is making it more difficult for them to make sensible, brave decisions."
Scrutiny does not make it more difficult for leaders to make sensible, brave decisions; it makes it more difficult for leaders to be corrupt and cheat on their wives. Thomas Friedman does not point out this discrepancy. He has more important thoughts to deliver.
Dov Seidman, the author of the book "How" whose company LRN advises C.E.O.'s on leadership, has long argued that "nothing inspires people more than the truth." Most leaders think that telling people the truth makes that leader vulnerable - either to the public or their opponents. They are wrong.
Telling the truth is good, argues Thomas Friedman. Does he also believe that you should look both ways before crossing the street, eat your vegetables, and get adequate sleep? You'll have to keep buying Thomas Friedman's book forever and ever, to find out.
That is not what we're seeing from leaders in America, the Arab world or Europe today. You'd think one of them, just one, would seize the opportunity to enlist their people in the truth: about where they are, what they are capable of, what plan they need to get there and what they each need to contribute to get on that better path. Whichever leader does that will have real "followers" and "friends" - not virtual ones.
LIKE FUCKING FACEBOOK GET IT?
Thomas Friedman gets to live in a huge mansion for being so smart.
[NYT. Photo: Getty]