Effective and disorganized: a new thing upon this earth

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.

Disorganised but effective: how technology lowers transaction costs


  1. Could we arguably say that it increases power for the disenfranchised individual more than the additional power leveraged here by vested hierarchies on the same transactional benefits?  Sometimes it seems that very traditional “pyramid” heirarchies are slower to act, more hidebound.  I also wonder if maybe this relates/enables to anarchal politics – or tangled hierarchies?

    1. The ability of a disorganized group to act more effectively can sometimes translate into increased power for that group and decreased power for hierarchies, but not necessarily.

      Because often, the actions of these newly effective disorganized groups can reinforce and support the power of existing hierarchies.  For example, the disorganized group of Facebook users is very effectively creating power and wealth for Facebook, Inc.  In this way you could say that the most successful/powerful hierarchies are the ones which channel disorganized groups into their service.

      The groups which truly gain power from being disorganized and effective are those which explicitly refuse to be ruled.  Reduced transaction costs allow us to be effective while still maintaining an uncompromising demand for liberty and autonomy.  But make no mistake: it is not the technology alone which grants that power – it is the technology plus the determination to be free.

  2. computers, networks, mobile phones and

    Direct. Neural. Connection.

    Why do you resist? We only want to improve quality of life.

  3. It’s connection vs. centralisation, I think. We started out disconnected and decentralised (small independent villages and whatnot), started to increase connection through increased centralisation (empires and onwards), experimented with centralised but disconnected dictatorships (Soviet Union, DPRK), and are now, for the first time, reaching a point in which we can be deeply connected without needing high centralisation.

    Elites and bureaucracies should be worried – an organised swarm will always overpower a few individuals. They survived before because the only way to organise effectively was through them or structures like them. Not any more.

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