When I was a kid, I had the good fortune to spend some time in Brazil (my dad was doing his dissertation research, and I think funded another trip with a Fulbright). At that time, as a kid, going from the U.S. to Brazil was an exercise in leaving behind pretty much everything that was familiar to you, cultural and material products-wise: the food was different (though we all loved Brazilian food, so that was no hardship), movies arrived months later, and familiar brands were nowhere to be found (with the exception of Coca-Cola). And most things that were available in English were imported from Britain, not America.
It also meant No Talking. If you wanted to call the States, you had to go to an international telephone center, fill out a form, and then take a number; they only had a certain number of phone booths, and it took time for the operators to place your call. It goes without saying that it was also ferociously expensive. If you wanted to communicate with the States, you wrote letters.
Twenty years later, when I was in England doing my dissertation research, I called home very rarely. And when I did, I had to have a pocketful of 50-pence and pound pieces, because it was still about 50p a minute to talk to the States. Feeding those heavy coins into the English public phones-- those big, curvy, clunky things-- is one of my more vivid memories of communicating with home.
This morning, after getting up and checking the time-- "9:45 p.m. in California!"-- I logged into iChat to see if my wife was online. She was. I clicked on the audio icon, and in a few seconds we were talking. No operator, no dedicated infrastructure. The sound quality was no different than if I was in the office-- there was hardly even any latency, and no echo. And it was free.
Truly, the world is flat.*
*Okay, it's not exactly flat, or not everywhere for everything. Friedman makes a great case for those parts of the world that have been joined together by fiber optic cable and Cisco routers, but Manuel Castell's observation that the wired parts of the world have now become closer to each other than they used to be to their own nation's hinterlands still holds true.
[To the tune of The Church, "Under the Milky Way," from the album "Starfish".]