April 3, 2005
The Lexus, the Olive Tree, and Other Bad Metaphors
But please, before you wade into Friedman prose that extends a good 15 pages beyond his usual allotted space, arm yourself with the quality snark of press critic impresario Matt Taibbi:
The hallmark of the Friedman method is a single metaphor, stretched to column length, that makes no objective sense at all and is layered with other metaphors that make still less sense. The result is a giant, gnarled mass of incoherent imagery. When you read Friedman, you are likely to encounter such creatures as the Wildebeest of Progress and the Nurse Shark of Reaction, which in paragraph one are galloping or swimming as expected, but by the conclusion of his argument are testing the waters of public opinion with human feet and toes, or flying (with fins and hooves at the controls) a policy glider without brakes that is powered by the steady wind of George Bush’s vision.
So when you encounter Friedgrafs like the following …
At one point, summing up the implications of all this, Nilekani uttered a phrase that rang in my ear. He said to me, ”Tom, the playing field is being leveled.” He meant that countries like India were now able to compete equally for global knowledge work as never before — and that America had better get ready for this. As I left the Infosys campus that evening and bounced along the potholed road back to Bangalore, I kept chewing on that phrase: ”The playing field is being leveled.”
”What Nandan is saying,” I thought, ”is that the playing field is being flattened. Flattened? Flattened? My God, he’s telling me the world is flat!”
… you’ll have been duly prepared for Friedie’s tortured relationship with imagery and the English language. Somewhere along the way, he’ll try to coin a new noun form of the word “flat,” no doubt trying to seed the culture with another goofy buzzword.
All this and more can be found in the excellent MetaFilter thread on the essay.