So Thomas Friedman says that the world is flat, that "the field is being leveled", that in the global economy distance and location become somewhat irrelevant, that the global digital network makes skills and cost and delivery time the only real discriminants.
It's a compelling vision. But I have the impression that there are still bumps here and there.
Here is a tiny but revealing example. I have this friends' couple who are Swiss and live in a village on the Mediterranean coast of Italy. Let's call them Ingrid and Markus, let's say that they are originally from Zurich - these personal identifiers are invented, just for the sake of facilitating the storytelling. They moved there a couple of years ago, looking for a different lifestyle - and they found it: Ingrid told me that she went swimming in the sea just a few days ago. They have creative jobs, Markus writes software, Ingrid writes, and they figured that they could continue doing so for Swiss clients, just with a good ADSL connection and selling the skills and the creativity that they had previously successfully sold to employers and customers in Switzerland for years.
"We thought it was a great idea, we saw ourselves as "cyber-nomads": we were already working alot with the Internet anyway, and in our minds national borders have been erased long ago", Ingrid told me.
But they were wrong. They had underestimated the bumps - particularly the symbolic ones, the ones that give customers an additional level of confidence. "They didn't really like the idea that we were far - although, in case a face-to-face meeting is necessary, we are just a few hours away - and especially they didn't like to think of us as being in Italy, a country very much associated with vacation, with sun and beaches, with "farniente", with laziness somehow".
So they had to change strategy. Stop telling people where they were - their websites don't carry the faintest hint - and get Zurich area-code phone numbers, which of course are rerouted to their Italian phones. "We do as if we were in Zurich, and everybody is happy, and our client pipeline looks very good", she says.
No, they're not lying: "if someone asks us, we say where we are - but usually people don't ask", they assume that if you answered a call to a local Zurich number, well, that's where you picked up the phone, and they go straight into talking work.
Of course, some precautions are necessary: "we make sure that we always know what the weather is like in Zurich right this moment - fortunately there are many webcams". And they keep an eye - or rather an ear - on the latest news and debates that are agitating Switzerland. And for that too, well, most newspapers are online and Swiss National Public Radio streams their news bulletins live on the Web, in the country's three official languages. So, says Ingrid, "actually, a part of us really 'is' in Switzerland, although in a couple of hours, when I'm done with the article I'm writing, I think I will walk to the beach".