I have had the honor of recently having as a house guest Michel Bauwens, the P2P philosophy evangelist, who, while based in remote Thailand, travels around the world to explain and divulge what peer to peer is really all about.
Photo credit: Robin Good
Peer to peer is not just illegal file-sharing of music files. Peer topeer is a whole philosophy, and if you have enough curiosity to listen, a full approach to social living in a cooperative and mutually beneficial fashion.
In this video interview, I have asked Michel Bauwens about his personal use and experience with peer to peer technologies and his advice about adopting such tools and bringing them into your everyday workflow.
At last, I also challenge Michel on the front where P2P has been receiving the harshest criticism: music sharing. What is the future of music and what role will P2P play into it?
Here his video answers along a full text transcription of each one.
There can be different scales:
Personally I think that the innovation part - the immaterial cooperation part - can work very well on a global scale, but with the realization part (when you move to the physical/material field), the face-to-face relationships are very important.
I think you can combine local production with global cooperation on the material field so everyone works together on making the best solar roof possible, but different teams make it in different places in the world.
Ok, well we use a combination of a wiki, a blog, and social bookmarking. And actually, if I should say, in addition we use a community platform which is called Ning and we use a few mailing lists still as well. So it is the combination of those five things that for us make our community work.
So what we have is a network of very bright people all interested in peer-to-peer and we have all those like Clay Shirky, Rheingold, McKenzie Wark. And other people in that field who know it very well. And we share bookmarks. So I can see what they discover, they can see what I discover. That's a tremendous source of value and innovation when you can see what those bright people discover.
Ning is a community forum, so how can you make the community visible, how can you know who's Michel Bauwens, who's Robin Good. All these names that people see. In the community you have your profile, you have your biography, you have your website. And you can launch discussions. So, that's public discussion where everybody can contribute.
So, I think it's an ecology. Every tool points to the other tool, re-enforces the other tool. And all of that is also embedded in face-to-face. I mean, I travel I meet people. Once I've met them I can ask more things. And some people I meet first face-to-face and then will come online after. Some people are online first and then they become offline friends or associate.
I have a vision of peer-to-peer as a human relationship and not a technological relationship.
So as long as you can have what I call permission-less actions and engagement, then it doesn't matter whether the tool is purely peer-to-peer or not. Because the internet allows people to publish, distribute and consume on an individual basis and voluntarily aggregate with others.
The tool does not have to be purely peer-to-peer to be effective for human peer-to-peer production and relationships.
I guess for me it was very organic. I started with the wiki, and the wiki didn't give to me a lot of responses. People used it, but they didn't write to me.
Then when I started the blog, my number of e-mails went up from five a week to twenty-five a day. And I think the reason is the blog is kind of an ecology. Every blog can talk about another blog and people can comment and link to blog items. So certainly you're part of not something that stands alone, but has its own visitors, but actually it's part of a continuum.
Then the next step was the social bookmarking. I would say that accelerated learning. You bring the best people together so they can learn from each other and you see what they see. Maybe it's only fifteen per cent of each other that's interested in but you will get to see that fifteen per cent. And you learn much faster than if you didn't have access to it.
And then the next step for me was the Ning community. Ning is like Facebook, but it doesn't have all the distractions that Facebook has. You don't have the hugging-and-poking, the cities I love, the books I've read, and etc.
So Ning is a more pure working environment. And what that did is that certainly people could see each other. So all the people were passing through me asking: "Michel do you know if..." Now, so we can see each others' profiles and can start asking each other. So, I'm out of the way. I'm no longer bottle-neck of the community. Now I can go on a trip. I was nearly three months on the road actually now and the community just continues to produce knowledge and exchange as if I were there. And that's great, because that's the effect you want to have.
Finally, this is very low-tech: we launched a peer-to-peer research mailing lists. And we have had two meetings. We had a meeting in Leuven and we have a meeting in Nottingham Trent. So what we do now is getting academics together and researchers to really focus more on objective knowledge that can be acceptable to universities and institutions. And one of our members or sympathizers is in a process of creating association of peer-to-peer researchers.
And there wasn't anything planned to all those things, just happened step by step and you feel like you have a surplus of energy that makes room for something new. You have... the blog is working, ok so what is next. And then you start the community and then you feel, ok the community is running. What next. And so I'm kind of a person. My role is to nurture the community.
When the community goes down, if there's nobody there to give it water it might stay down. But if there's a soul behind it, a moderator, someone who cares then just that little water you give it will make the mailing list starts again.
So that's my role. Whenever I feel something is stabilized, I try to see what's the next step. What I need to do, what we can reinforce, and the strength of the ideas of peer-to-peer at this stage of our growth.
Your question about file-sharing, what I think about it, and the future of music.
I think with music the issue is very typical, we have something that costs money to make, but once it's made you can share it at no cost. So its pretty logical to think that people will say let's share it.
So I think file-sharing is inevitable.
However, maybe you will find it contradictory, but I will not do that (i.e. share music). It's the same thing as people who jump the line in a Metro and don't pay for the metro ticket. I understand that young people do it. But it's just not something that I want to do myself.
I think that when a system no longer works, people first of all show transgressive behavior. They are just going to do what the most logical thing is to do. And the effect it has is to destroy the legitimacy of the old regime. When ninety percent of the people are doing file-sharing (I'm not sure of the actual figure, but I know that in Sweden even the grannies do it. And you aren't going to throw grannies in jail), it shows that the law is no longer appropriate.
But is it something healthy to live in a society where people have to transgress the law? No.
So I think that the next step is constructive. You actually construct alternatives that are within the law. And I think that Creative Commons is an example of that. So people are going from doing whatever they want, whether its legal or not, to creating a new legal system which allows them to do what they want to do. And then you give people the choice. You can still pay but its an option... a choice. And you can also share your musics.
And the third step, which is the most important actually, is when you start engaging with the existing society. In other words when you become conscious of your choices... when you become conscious of what the old world does not want you or allow you to do (i.e. these new life practices), and then you have to start building a political-social movement to defend your life choices.
I don't think we are there yet, but we are certainly already in the second phase where people are constructing positive legal alternatives that allow people to be free in their choices.
Well I think the future of music is a little bit like the future of all the cultural industries that work through the internet. Instead of having gatekeepers that you have get permission from order to produce music and reach your audience, what you will have is a bottom-up music scene where people will make music in all kinds of ways. And at all kinds of levels, both professional and not professional.
But once you break through to a certain level of interest and popularity, you will still need help. You will need people to help you. People to help you with marketing, with production, with distribution, and help you manage your business. The change is that these people become facilitators, not feudal lords that you have to sign your soul away to in order to make it.
Also I think that we will have much more choice in music, what is called the long tail. But a lot of people like today won't be able to make a living through music, but they will still have an audience. There will be more amateur kinds of music. People doing music on the sides. So I think that broader participation brings more choice and overall that is a good thing.
Originally shot and recorded by Robin Good for MasterNewMedia and first published on September 17th 2008 as "Peer To Peer: Using P2P Technologies For Collaborative Work - A Video Interview Michel Bauwens".
About Michel Bauwens
Michel Bauwens (1958) is a Belgian integral philosopher and Peer-to-Peer theorist. He has worked as an internet consultant, information analyst for the United States Information Agency, information manager for British Petroleum (where he created one of the first virtual information centers), and is former editor-in-chief of the first European digital convergence magazine, the Dutch language Wave. With Frank Theys, he is the co-creator of a 3 hour documentary TechnoCalyps, an examination of the 'metaphysics of technology'. He taught and edited two French language anthologies on the Anthropology of Digital Society.
Although a student of Ken Wilber's integral theory for many years, he has recently become critical of aspects of the Wilber-Beck movement, and is a powerful voice for a non-authoritarian peer-to-peer based integral society.
He has taught courses on the anthropology of digital society to postgraduate students at ICHEC/St. Louis in Brussels, Belgium and related courses at Payap University and Chiang Mai University in Thailand.