Peer-to-peer is an emergent philosophy and way of working, collaborating and creating wealth among human beings. The peer to peer philosophy is based on living principles that are quite different from those that you may have been educated with but which in many ways may feel more "natural" and close to your nature than the ones you have seen at work in the business world around you.
I have explored several times in the past, here on MasterNewMedia, the value and implications of P2P both from philosophical, social, technological, economic and political aspects as P2P silently but relentlessly keeps conquering new presence in many of these fields.
Nonetheless P2P is often mistaken as the label for "illegal music file sharing", there is a lot more to understanding P2P and the ideas behind it without getting caught in this "fear" propaganda launched in the last few years by record companies and their allies.
Education, learning and the institutions that work in the direction of crystallizing and distributing knowledge to others are all top candidates for adapting themselves to the sweeping changes happening around them. Peer to peer is a venue for these institutions to remain relevant, socially useful and economically thriving, at least where these are willing to abandon the restrictions and walled gardens of the past and are willing to embrace the free, opennes and participation traits of the peer to peer approach.
P2P evangelist Michel Bauwens, explains in this video interview I snagged during his brief stay over in Rome, the relevance, vision, and practical path that educational institutions can take to bring peer-to-peer into their immediate future.
This video interview was originally shot and first published as a key resource for the online learning conference emerge2008 which is coming to an end today. I must thank Tony Carr of The Centre for Educational Technology at the University of Cape Town, for motivating me to carry out this interview and for the value that he brings to the academic world via his conference. I think that the outcome and the learning that has ensued from this has way surpassed the time and effort required on all sides to have made this possible.
Here the whole video interview in 12 small clips, accompanied by a full text English transcription.
I often compare the change from capital society to a peer to peer society as something very similar to the change from the slave-based society of Rome to the feudal society in the Christian west. And so basically what happened was that Rome had a crisis of extensive development: in other words it could no longer grow in space.
When a slave-based empire cannot grow in space, what happens is that slaves become expensive, and then usually it's replaced by another empire. But that didn't happen with Rome: what happened was that the society moved from a production by slaves for the roman market, you know exchange value, making commodities which could be sold, it moved to a society based on the production of the use value by serfs instead of slaves.
So the serfes, the peasants, the farmers would produce for their own, and would give the surplus to the local dominant lords. And that was the base of the feudal system, so it was a move from extensive development to intensive local development, and it was a move from extensive, space-based development to local intensive development.
And what I'm arguing is that the change from capitalism to peer to peer is very similar: so what we have is a change from production of exchange value, not making commodities for sale.
To communities, people using communities producing for use values directly, you know people who share on YouTube they don't make a video for sale, they make it to show, you know it's directly useful for other people. And the people who produce Linux don't produce Linux to sell it, they produce it because it's directly useful for themselves and others.
And the other change I think is that we are similarly facing a crisis of extensive development of capitalism. If India and China want to be on the same level as Europe and United States, we need five planets, where are they? We don't have them. So we are facing now a crisis of extensive development: higher prices, food prices, water, and all these crisis are commuting because we cannot continue in the same way we have been doing.
And so what we have is a similar shift from extensive development in space, to re-localize production on the local level but the globalized aspect is open design communities developing the intellectual value.
At the same time look at Rome: what happened was localized production feudal but with the Church as the globalized intellectual force.
And so the more you look into it, the more you see actually similarities.
Let me tell you one more: the Marxist vision of taking power first and then controlling the means of production, that never happened, and it never happened in history. What happened was that the Romans did. They started in a way liberating slaves into becoming serfs cause it was cheaper for them: they didn't have to feed the slaves. But it was a lot better for the serfs because they had their own land, their own families, they could work for themselves and similarly today we see less smart capitalists like Google, and Ebay, and YouTube...They invest in participatory production. They let the user communities produce use value. They create proprietary platforms and they try to monetize that.
So what we see is knowledge... and capital owners becoming enablers and empowerers of participation. So both classes are changing, reconfiguring at the same time. So again, very similar to what happened at the end of the roman empire. That's basically the story.
Peer to peer is much broader than file sharing: what it is really about is how computers are organized, but crucially how the people are organized.
So peer-to-peer is a relation, dynamic distributed network.
It's a network whereby every individual has a freedom to act and a freedom to engage in relationships without asking permission.
So these are really the keys: permissionless networks. So it doesn't matter whether the network itself is purely peer-to-peer, the Internet is no longer pure peer to peer. The web is "client - server", but as long as it permits individual to produce, to distribute, to share, to work together with other individuals without asking permission, for me that's peer to peer.
Well P2P in the context of learning is changing a presumption in the sense that what you want to learn is not necessarily outside of your community. It's not out there, it's basically collective intelligence that's already present and implicit in the group itself. But of course the group basically, if you wanted, is worldwide.
And so it's how you can create a structure whereby you enable people to learn from each other, because you can never say beforehand where a particular piece of knowledge is that you look for. It can be one particular person, who had one particular experience at some point in time. You don't know that, but he or she knows.
So [the real question should be] how can you create a system where you can broadcast the needs and people can then self-aggregate and say "I know the answer to this question, I can teach you that"?
Apart from the fact that you enable individuals to get in touch with each other, and to ask each other questions and therefore learn from each other, what it also does is it changes the institutional logic of learning.
Learning in a modern society is: you have an institution and you consider individuals to be separated individuals and therefore you need to socialize them, you need to teach them and you consider a kind of input-output process as an institution.
In a peer-to-peer environment it's: "how can I enable and empower people who are always already connected to learn from each other, how can I put more grease into that already existing process of sharing and learning from each other".
Well I think what happens is that with peer to peer the informal processes, the informal curriculum is becoming more important as compared to the formal curriculum.
Now usually changes don't change everything: what I think is that smart institutions will basically adapt and incorporate participation in their processes and it will use open access, open publishing, open textbook, open courseware, will allow people to change their curriculum, to adapt it to their needs.
And then it will create a commons so that everybody can actually profit from what you're doing with your institution and your community so it's not limited to your own community, it starts engaging in dialog, outside of the community.
And so it's not about abolishing education institutions, it's about adaptation processes.
I would start thinking in terms of three paradigms:
a) the open and free,
b) the participation paradigm, and
c) the commons oriented paradigm.
So open and free means opening up and using open education material: material which isn't copyrighted, which is available in Internet, which your students can use as well, which they can modify, distribute.
The second part would be thinking in terms of participation: can they turn in their work in a way that's usable by other people, can they use a wiki, can they use a blog, can they find the right people to answer their questions, which are not necessarily inside your institutions, but can be the whole Internet basically.
And finally the older results should be available for the next generation: so can you use creative commons licenses, or commons ... approach.
So your community of learners stop, but the next generation of learners can actually build on what you've already done and continue to create a resource for next generations to use.
I think that basically a way an institution thinks is about how are we different from others: you think of yourself as somehow being self-enclosed, you think if you pay the best teachers you'll be the best education institution. And so what I'm suggesting is that today you have to think differently.
You have to think that there'll always be more talent, always be more learning outside of my institution than inside.
So instead of thinking about the core, core-competency, self-enclosement, you think about opening up developing edge competencies, how can we tap into all that richness that's already happening out there and not inside.
Not necessarily, I think there's a lot of technologies that are low-bandwidth, asynchronous like email, mailing lists, forms, bulletin boards, so you can use those if you don't use multimedia, you know there's a whole brain-to-brain communication that can happen at very low bandwidth.
Well I think connectivism is related to P2P as an attempt to kind of think about a learning theory and it's basically about listing, about transmission from someone who has a knowledge to somebody who doesn't have the knowledge. Rather than thinking who and what, where can I find the information and knowledge that I need in that particular moment by accessing the network.
So the value becomes your experience in tapping the network, rather than a particular relationship between teacher and learner.
P2P and "Just in Time Learning" could happen by creating, I think lots of little modules, you know like..., that would be kind of self-enclosed but would be linked to all kind of learning material that are available and therefore if you need something you'd be able to very quickly find those modules and that would connect you to the whole world of learning resources.
That's for the formal part, and the informal part is knowing what kind of people do have the knowledge or do have access to the knowledge that you're looking for, and it's knowing the when, the where, the what, of knowing who's doing what in terms of expertise in your field.
OK I think in terms of opening up an institution to peer-to-peer dynamics: the first one is to open up yourself, in other words everything that you produce should be open, should be accessible, not just by the people inside your institution but by everybody. There's no reason why it should be limited.
The second tip is enabling and empowering your students to produce material so that is not just the teacher to produce but the whole community of learners is themselves an active participant in the production of knowledge. And I think combining those two is basically already enough to have a start.
I think every institution has to adapt to peer-to-peer because if you do something in a peer to peer way as we have seen with Linux compared to Microsoft, or Wikipedia compared to Britannica, there's just no way that traditional productions can compete with access to a whole community, a whole world of people can contribute to a project.
And so even then most conservative institutions would have to open up to peer to peer, and would have at least partially to become participative if they want to survive.
Original interview by Robin Good for emerge2008 Online Conference - text transcription Nico Canali De Rossi - first published on July 18th 2008 on Master New Media as "P2P And Education: Robin Good Interviews Peer-To-Peer Evangelist Michel Bauwens"