E-Commerce: A Revolution in the Making for Consumers, Firms, and Nations

by Tora K. Bikson, Robert H. Anderson

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This article discusses the impact of the revolution in electronic commerce ("e-commerce") at three social levels: consumers, firms, and nations. At the consumer level, the technology tends to have a magnifying effect: realizing the retail potential for e-commerce may in fact widen existing gaps in access to computers and networks between groups with differing education and income, with possible effects on the economic life of the nation. At the level of a firm, e-commerce may yield a more equal playing field for the largest and smallest contenders, but with fears that middle-size firms -- especially those that deliver traditional business services -- are in some danger of disappearing. At the national or global level, a salient missing ingredient for the success of e-commerce is a sense of community, based on shared norms and understandings. Without such frameworks -- including, but not totally dependent on, laws -- cyberspace may foster virtual havens for trade in illicit goods and services, for piracy, money-laundering, and other forms of far-flung e-crime. Many nations are also concerned with guarding against U.S. hegemony in cyberspace, especially when added to the dominance of the United States in an increasingly digital entertainment market. Internationally networked e-commerce may serve to increase the already vast differences in well-being between the world's richest nations and its poorest. A common theme across consumers, firms, and nations is that dramatic, dissimilar impacts will occur within each sector. At the national level, it is not too soon to give international, coordinated e-commerce policies the attention they urgently require.

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