Indentured servitude in a new key

These reflections on virtual organization are about the meaning and social significance of computers as mediators and brokers. Computers mediate between individuals by providing channels of communication in the form of messaging systems; they act as brokers in matching buyers and sellers, employees and employers, resources and work processes, etc. The explosive growth of electronic commerce on the Internet has made such functions commonplace. Computer-based mediation and brokerage lie at the heart of virtual organization, a powerful and flexible mode of organization founded on a separation of requirements from the ways in which requirements are met. Separating these elements allows managers to switch easily from one way of meeting a requirement (e.g., for an employee, a supplier, partner, etc.) to another. Used systematically, switching brings huge increases in productivity provided transaction costs are held in check. The price of this increased efficiency is that, practiced regularly, switching weakens personal and political loyalties. Absent a sense of loyalty to persons or places, virtual organizations distance themselves from the regions and countries in which they operate. Virtual organization is undermining the nation state. Government as we know it today cannot control virtual organizations and will have to cede its responsibilities and powers to them. A new feudal system is in the making.