You probably belong to a number of these groups already. Perhaps it's an online neighborhood group interested in bike lanes, or collectors of 19th century English cameo glass, or a black-powder shooting club, or an on-line gamer team, or a weekend bicycling team, or Oklahoma longhorn cattle breeders. Many of these are virtual descendents of physical groups, such as the local VFW or PTA, the difference now being that the membership is no longer confined to a single geographic area -- which makes their creation much simpler and their membership rolls far easier to fill. In the old days, you had to deal with that one jerk down at the Elks Club hall; these days, that jerk has been replaced by a good guy who happens to live in Capetown.
These sub-market niche groups are an interesting combination of old and new. Old, because most are likely to contain about 150 members, what sociologists say has been the optimal grouping of human beings since prehistory. They also behave like a traditional tribe -- insular, trading amongst themselves, and suspicious of outsiders. At the same time, they are very modern -- existing almost entirely in cyberspace, hidden behind firewalls, and with global extension.
By the time our current economic transformation is over, 3 billion people -- including you and I -- will be shopping, competing and working in the vast global marketplace. At the same time, most of those 3 billion -- including you and I -- will also belong to twenty or more sub-market niche groups. How we will choose to apportion our time between the two will be a personal choice based upon wealth, age, the demands of our work, and the varieties of our interests.
Meanwhile, for businesses everywhere, both large and small, a major decision is rapidly approaching: do you risk everything for the chance at great overnight success by launching into the global marketplace? Or do you take the time (and endless patience) that will be required to earn your way with trust into a hundred or a thousand of those small niche markets -- and enjoy a smaller, but infinitely loyal, customer base almost forever?
Finally, for government, the challenge may be the biggest of all -- because as individuals begin to migrate to these two poles (the global and the intensely local) intermediate entities like state and federal governments begin to look increasingly superfluous. And their ability to do things like collect taxes becomes increasingly difficult. If I were a bureaucrat or politician right now, I'd be wondering where I belong in this new world.
TAD'S TAB: Here's the perfect time-waster. "Let Them Sing it for You" is an online application that allows you to type in the text of your choice -- and then it will sing it back to you using samplings from a wide variety of popular music. Type anything you can think of, then hear it performed by your favorite (and not-so-favorite) performers. Check it out at http://www.sr.se/p1/Src/sing/
This is the opinion of the columnist and in no way reflects the opinion of ABC News.