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Journey to the flat world

The first assignment I give my history students each Fall is Thomas Friedman's article, "It's a flat world after all," a condensed version of his book, "The World is Flat." Most of you all know the premise. For a variety of reasons, the global playing field has been leveled. At one time there was a significant advantage to being born in the United States, but with the ubiquity of broadband internet (among other disruptive technology) a high school student in India or China now has many of the same opportunities as a student in California. It's a bit of a wake-up call for my students.

I see the flat world everywhere I look. My favorite example is the popular power ballad band, Journey. Ever since Steve Perry and his signature voice left the band in the 80's, founder Neil Schon struggled to find a suitable replacement. Various singers were hired, but none really caught a lot of attention. Back then, Journey held auditions, listening to a handful of vocalists who were well-connected enough to get their feet in the door, but the pool of applicants was quite small, and no one was able to match Perry.

But in 2007, YouTube changed everything. Schon was surfing the web and stumbled across a video from the Filipino Journey tribute band The Zoo. The singer, Arnel Pineda, was a dead ringer for Steve Perry. He was the best Steve Perry in the world, and Schon was able to find him only because of the internet. Here's the video Schon saw:

Last fall we watched the (new) Journey play at Shoreline Amphitheater in Mountain View, CA. The most interesting thing about the concert was not on the stage. It was the audience. It wasn't just a bunch of has-beens from the 70's trying to relive the glory years, nor was it just a crowd of Gen X'ers, like me, trying to decide if their taste for Journey was ironic or genuine. No, the most striking element was that the Filipino / American community of Northern California came out in droves. They packed the kids and grandma in the car to see a extremely talented yet unknown Filipino singer formerly of a small cover band live the dream.

There was some skepticism from the crowd before the headliners took the stage. Steve Perry is a local San Francisco guy. Shoreline posted a number for the audience to text messages on the jumbo trons, and among the "Journey ROX!" and "Janice, I LUV U" posts, there were more than a few messages that read, "We want Steve!"

But once Pineda took the stage in the leather pants to match his long black hair and began singing, "Never Walk Away" the audience got into it. But by the time they got to "Don't Stop Believin'" we all started to wonder, does this guy do Steve Perry better than Steve Perry? For me the answer is yes.

So I told this story to my students, all of whom attend a well respected independent school known for its high achieving students. Among students in California, they rank pretty high up there. Some of them might even be considered one out of a thousand. But when students are competing in the marketplace with students from India, China, and yes The Philippines, one out of a thousand means there are two million people just as good or better. "Better do your homework."

Pineda had no L.A. connections. Indeed, the guy lived on an island on the other side of the planet. But, he was arguably the best Steve Perry out of six billion, and, most remarkably, he was found. The internet has its pitfalls. But one thing I have seen it do is make the world a fairer (or, as Friedman would say, flatter) place, and if it makes 80's rock rock harder, then I'm all for it.

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