My latest Guardian column is “Disorganised but effective: how technology lowers transaction costs,” a piece about a new kind of group that has been enabled by the Internet — a group with no formal structure that can still get stuff done, like Occupy and Anonymous.
The things that one person can do define what is “human”. The things that transcend the limits of an individual – building a skyscraper, governing a nation, laying a telecommunications network, writing an operating system – are the realm of the super-human.
The most profound social revolutions in human history have arisen whenever a technology comes along that lowers transaction costs. Technologies that makes it cheaper to work together lower the tax on super-human powers.
Language (which allowed for explicit communication), writing (which allowed for record-keeping), literacy (which allowed for communication at a distance and through time) and all the way up to assembly lines, telegraphs, telephones, cryptography (which lowers transaction costs by reducing the amount of energy you have to expend to keep attackers out of your coordination efforts), computers, networks, mobile phones and beyond.
Decreasing transaction costs means that the powerful can do more. If you’ve already organised a state or criminal enterprise or church with you at the top, it means that you’ve figured out how to harvest and distribute resources effectively enough to maintain your institutional stability.