Why the world isn’t as flat as Tom Friedman thinks

This morning’s Observer column.

Friedman’s book [The World is Flat: The Globalized World in the Twenty-first Century] is a paradigmatic exposition of the dominant narrative about technology – what one might call the Californian ideology – which sees computing technology as an essentially benign force that, over time, will iron out many of the economic, cultural and ideological divides that so disfigure our contemporary world. The basic message is that the internet creates a level playing field. And the freedoms that the network brings – freedom to communicate, access knowledge, publish and consume – will in time undermine the capacity of tyrants to keep their subjects in thrall. In this at least, the Californian ideology mirrors its Marxist counterpart, in that both believe that the state will eventually wither away.

Between now and that particular nirvana, however, a few niggling difficulties remain. One is that the state shows no sign of withering any time soon…