writing about science and culture has appeared in The New York Times Magazine

Interesting question. My candidate would be: The concept of information as a commodity, a thing that can be bought and sold. It's an ancient invention, dating back to the day of the fleet footed messenger, but its enormous consequences had to wait for the acceleration of information-carrying technologies like the telegraph and the Internet. We're only now witnessing the cumulative impact, as the buying and selling of information begins to outweigh the buying and selling of stuff.

Why is this so important? Because humans who trade in information behave like our hunter gathering ancestors. They are alert and adaptable to an ever-changing environment. They work in small groups. They are independent thinkers who dislike taking orders and are fervently egalitarian. They place their faith in face to face relationships, not authority or a title. For as long as humanity got its living by agriculture or industry, such traits had to be suppressed in favor of those more amenable to centralization, authority, large-scale enterprises. This epoch is coming to an end. In the post-industrial west we no longer value stability, steadfastness and predictability over change, adaptability and flexibility. We are no longer awed by political power, instead seeing those who hold it as just like us. (When I was a kid people worried about the ``Imperial Presidency'' becoming too awesome for a democracy to support. But then, when I was a kid, an ex-wrestler could not get elected governor of Minnesota.) Corporate types often remark that their 20-something employees can't take orders and expect to be able to dress as they please and bring their parrot to work.

All this is supposed to be a consequence of prosperity. But it seems to me the shift is far more profound. After a 7000-year detour through agriculture and industry, we are returning to the ways of our proud, individualistic, headstrong, small-group-dwelling forebears, and that will reshape the human community profoundly. And it's the move from a thing-economy to an information-economy that's making it happen.