November 17, 1999
FOREIGN AFFAIRS / By THOMAS L. FRIEDMAN
Next, It's E-ducation
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he two most telling stories about
the 10th anniversary of the fall of the
Berlin Wall actually ran in the business sections of The New York
Times and The Washington Post.
One was a short article in the back
pages of The Times that reported
that the number of adults using the
Internet in the U.S. had surpassed
100 million, meaning that roughly
half the U.S. population is now online.
The other article, in The Post, noted
that Amazon.com was shipping an
extraordinary number of copies of
Adolf Hitler's racist manifesto, "Mein
Kampf," to buyers in Germany. It is
illegal to sell "Mein Kampf" in bookstores in Germany or publish it there.
But as we move from the world of
Borders books to the world of borderless books, a k a Amazon.com, Germans can order "Mein Kampf" online
and have it delivered by mail, and
their government is powerless to stop
it. Indeed, Amazon shipped so many
copies of "Mein Kampf" to Germany
that over the summer Hitler made
Amazon's top 10 best-seller list
among German buyers.
What these two little stories tell is
that 10 years after the fall of the
Berlin Wall a whole other set of walls
is starting to fall, as we move deeper
into the Internet revolution. And this
is not simply an American phenomenon, nor, as the "Mein Kampf" example illustrates, will it automatically bring out the best in people.
So what comes next? With the first
phase of this wall-destroying Internet
revolution -- the e-mail and e-commerce phase -- now fully under way, I
posed that question to John Chambers. Mr. Chambers runs Cisco Systems, which makes the routers that
run the Internet. Beware: He has an
obvious stake in touting the Internet.
But note: His past predictions have
proved extremely accurate.
Mr. Chambers argued that the second phase of the Internet revolution
-- businesses absorbing the Internet
and using it to relate to one another
-- was now just taking off, and that
this was going to be a monster market. There is barely a C.E.O. in the
developed world who in the last six
months hasn't said to himself: "Oh
my God! This Internet thing is real.
Somebody call me an Internet doctor
and wire me up."
Once a C.E.O. understands that
absorbing the Net into every aspect
of his or her business "is the only
way they are going to survive," said
Mr. Chambers, "they are going to be
spending big bucks on it. That's why
I believe that Y2K will be short-lived,
and after that we are going to see one
of the best years the computer industry has ever seen."
So now that commerce has moved
to the Net, and the Net is moving into
business, what comes after that?
"Education," said Mr. Chambers.
"The next big killer application for
the Internet is going to be education.
Education over the Internet is going
to be so big it is going to make e-mail
usage look like a rounding error" in
terms of the Internet capacity it will
What will drive it will be the demands on companies, in an intensely
competitive global economy, to keep
improving productivity. E-learning,
insists Mr. Chambers, if done right,
can provide faster learning, at lower
costs, with more accountability,
thereby enabling both companies and
schools to keep up with changes in the
global economy that now occur at Net
speed. Schools and countries that ignore this, he says, will suffer the same
fate as big department stores that
thought e-commerce was overrated.
If universities move properly, they
will offer the ideal combination of
online and instructor-led learning, argues Mr. Chambers. But if universities don't reinvent their curriculums
and how they deliver them, for an
increasingly Net-driven economy,
many students, particularly in information technology fields, "will go to
schools online," he says. Many big
firms -- Cisco, G.E., I.B.M., AT&T --
are starting online academies to train
new employees and to constantly upgrade the skills of existing ones.
"Unlike in the industrial revolution when you had to be in the right
country or city to participate, in this
new era capital will flow to whichever countries and companies install
the best Internet and educational capabilities," says Mr. Chambers. Governments and unions will be powerless to stop this capital flow, which
will affect the global balance of economic power. Although the technology exists today, this revolution will
take about 10 years to be fully in
place. But, insists Mr. Chambers,
"it's coming next."