Doctorow: Transaction costs

Cory Doctorow is probably my favorite person.

Technologies that makes it cheaper to work together lower the tax on super-human powers.

He's got a new article up at the Guardian, called Disorganized but effective:  how technology lowers transaction costs.  It's about the ways in which the internet, and other advancing technologies, have expanded our ability to cooperate to the point where we've passed a horizon of comprehensibility -- it no longer makes sense to think of cooperation in some traditional ways.

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.

Sci fi writers always ask the best questions, and Doctorow's essay doesn't disappoint:

When I'm wondering about the future, I try to imagine moving today's institutions down the formality ladder. What technology would let us govern nations the way that ants build hills or Occupy runs its general assembly? What technology would make it possible to build and run a tramway the way Wikipedia manages its collective editing process? What would it mean to have networking fade into the background, become so commodified and automated that it more or less built and maintained itself?

Most of all, I try to imagine what "disorganised and effective" groups would do with every area of substantial human activity, from public health to education to astronomy. It's a wonderful and mindwarping sort of exercise – I thoroughly recommend it.