Wednesday, April 13, 2011

We're No. 5! We're No. 5!

Perhaps I just lack the mentality of a true winner, but there's something weird to me about the way this New York Times story is framed:

The United States continues to lag other nations in its use of computing and communications technology, according to an annual study issued Tuesday by the World Economic Forum.

That's awful! We need to win the future and build a bridge to the 21st century! Otherwise our kids will someday play with their iPads while more forward-thinking countries use personal holograms in the classroom! Oh the humanity!

For the second consecutive year, the United States finished fifth in the study’s comparison of 138 countries that make up 98.8 percent of the world’s total gross domestic product. Sweden was first, followed by Singapore, Finland and Switzerland.

Wait. What? We're No. 5? Out of 138 countries? That puts us in the top 3.6 percent of nations? And we're much, much, much bigger than the nations ahead of us—meaning their higher ranking might be partly the result of the ease of organizing and wiring up smaller communities than big, continent-spanning countries with big, continent-spanning populations?


Now, it's true that the Times points out some of America's weaknesses in the ranking: "For example, it ranked 76th in the rate of mobile phone subscriptions, 48th in low-cost access to business phone lines and 24th in percentage of households with a personal computer — behind Bahrain, Singapore and Brunei, among others." Hey: Let's work on that stuff.

But it seems that in the big picture, the United States has actually done a pretty decent job of transitioning society into its current tech-centric incarnation. The nations we "lag" behind just don't face the same challenges of scale that we do. Are we so fixated on being No. 1 in all things that we can't see when we're actually doing a pretty good job?


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