The other day, my Dell printer ran out of ink, and I had to order a new cartridge. I called the toll-free number and the female voice on the other end had a distinct foreign accent. In fact, it was an Indian accent.
I gave her all the information she needed to complete the purchase. I then asked her where she was. She said she was in Bangalore, India. We then had a very pleasant conversation about the weather, the time of day in Boston and Bangalore. I asked if the cartridge would be sent from India. No, she replied, it would be sent from Texas.
That’s when the idea of the global economy hit me. I had to call India to place my order, which India instantly transmitted to Texas, from where the item would be shipped to me in Boston.
How could all of this be economical for Dell? Three factors. First, the incredible reduction in the cost of telecommunications. The second factor, of course, is the lower costs in labor by having all of these purchase orders and technical questions answered by English-speaking Indians. The third was the ease of electronic payment by credit card.
I complimented the young lady on her excellent English, which she had learned in India. I asked if she had been taught British English or American English. She said she was taught “neutral” English.
I was calling at about 11 p.m. Eastern Time and she was in the mid-afternoon of the next day. “What is happening tomorrow?” I asked. “What does tomorrow’s paper say?” She laughed. This was not a time machine in which she could see the future even though she was ahead of me by a day. Strange phenomenon.
When the ink cartridge arrived, I somehow fouled up my printer in trying to install it. It printed only black and white, no color. So I called the service number. I had to make three calls and wait 20 minutes before I was finally connected to a very nice Indian gentleman in Hyderabad. He led me through a rather complex process to restore my printer’s color facility. I thanked him for his help. But I asked why did it take so long for me to get through. He said that the volume of calls was very great. So why didn’t they hire more people, I asked. He didn’t know why.
What is really scary about this globalization business is that we may not be able to compete with these highly literate Indians. Our education system is crippling the cognitive skills of millions of young Americans. And not even top computer CEOs can do anything about it. In an interview in USA Today (Nov. 8, 2001), Craig Barrett, the head of Intel, told a reporter:
We have a constant need for more high-tech trained people. The bulk of our research and development is done here, but increasingly that’s going to move out of the United States for a variety of reasons, one of which is the availability of trained resources here.
That’s good news for high-tech students in India. The key to success in the Information Age is the ability to read English and do science. The young lady in Bangalore and the man in Hyderabad have nice jobs, which pay well according to Indian standards. They provide convenient service for Americans halfway around the world.
And, of course, Dell has customers all over the world. Technology is the driving force behind all of this globalization. The Internet spans the planet. WorldNetDaily, for example, uses items from same-day newspapers in England, Australia, Scotland, Israel and all over the United States.
Yet, we still exist as a sovereign nation, just as India exists as a sovereign nation. We have our history, our traditions, our flag, our Christianity, our sense of being Americans, not “citizens of the world.” We have our own American soul, which cannot be submerged in some global oneness, with no identity, no separate future, no separate life.
Both transactions were pleasant and successful. I was able to have enjoyable conversations with two very nice people on the opposite side of the globe. They were in tomorrow, and I was in yesterday. I wonder if that has some significant symbolic meaning.