Geo Barcan: New Design Congress: This is Fine: Optimism & Emergency in the P2P Network

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https://newdesigncongress.org/en/pub/this-is-fine

- As we enter the 2020s, centralised power and decentralised communities are on the verge of outright conflict for the control of the digital public space.
- *“Good luck to all those striving for decentralization, balance and equality in the world. You are fighting the right battle. This battle may well be the most important battle of our generation.”*

*“‘Torrents are down, worldwide’ said no one, ever. #centralizationisfragile”*

- The internet itself is a decentralised network.
- Copyright War = the series of legal battles over digital intellectual property rights.

- **PLATFORM CAPITALISM**

**whaaaaaattttttttttttt WHAAAATTTTTT whhaaaatttt WHHHAAAAT?!?!?!?!!?!?!?!?!?!?!**

 

- BitTorrent’s launch in 2001 enabled file-sharing on a massive, efficient and resilient scale. By embedding the decentralised ideology beneath the desktop client, and within the protocol on which the client runs, the act of file-sharing became much more resistant to legislative attack. To many of its supporters and combatants, BitTorrent seemed unstoppable. Most of the early 2000s discourse prophesied the devastation of an existing capitalist cultural order, accelerated by significant ideological moments of the era: the establishment of the first collaborative online music library, the foundation of the Pirate Bay website, censorship-resistant document distribution, and the formation of the Piratpartiet, and its international equivalents.


- The entertainment industry framed the conflict as a fight against movie and music “piracy.” However, this rhetoric obscures the serious implications of the tactics deployed by these giants. Central to the defeat of this particular peer-to-peer movement was that its infrastructure was vulnerable to weaponised design, in which the network protocol directly empowers attackers through its design. For BitTorrent, this empowerment came as the protocol exposes every user’s participation in the network. This data was exploited to unmask users, ruin lives and provide justification for new legislation. The collapse of centralised power that was prophesied in the 2000s never materialised. Centralised actors outmaneuvered the reformists, shielding themselves and their own ecosystems from scrutiny. The concentrated media companies of the 2020s now dwarf their 1999 equivalents, and the innovations pioneered by decentralised infrastructure were exploited by the winners as they ascended to monopoly.


- The most poetic example of peer-to-peer technologies pressed into the service of corporate giants is the story of peer-to-peer software engineer Ludvig Strigeus. Having built the popular μTorrent client and perhaps sensing the changing winds, Strigeus joined former μTorrent CEO Daniel Ek’s new startup. Together, they built a quasi-Napster/BitTorrent hybrid that relied on a vast, unauthorised music catalog drawn from its user base. Today, that architecture is long gone, but the startup – Spotify – boasts 124 million subscribers, taking in USD$7.44 billion in revenue but paying artists just USD$4.37 per 1,000 streams.

 

- *“Neoliberalism can be distinguished from Fordist capitalism’s mass production of consumer goods by the ways it seeks to marketize previously uncommodified sectors of human life. Indeed, one of the questions [we seek] to explore is how design might enable this process by locating new sources of extraction and accumulation by facilitating the commodification of that which was once thought to be outside the scope of the market.”* [Special Issue: Design and Neoliberalism](https://doi.org/10.1080/17547075.2019.1667188) Arden Stern & Sami Siegelbaum, Design and Culture

 

- In her 2007 book, The Shock Doctrine, Naomi Klein lays bare the clandestine policies employed by powerful societies to expand influence and ownership through exploitation of real or manufactured crisis. Klein cites societal-wide disasters - the invasion of Iraq as a pretext for greater US control in the Middle East or, most recently, identifying the privatisation of infrastructure after the 2018 Puerto Rico hurricane as the pretexts for this overreach. The ubiquity of human-centred design offers flexible opportunities to use technologies to extract value and consolidate power. The design of the Apple Watch, Safety Check and particularly COVID–19 Contact Tracing APIs must be understood as whitelabelled crisis response – Shock Doctrine as a Service – employing dominant, market-driven design methodologies to drive mass adoption of products and services that are then easily reconfigured during moments of disaster. Presented as opportunities to protect or save lives, these functionalities are rolled out in homes, communities and cities as software updates or addons – without allowing any negotiation or meaningful consent. When deployed in response to broader crises, their creators benefit from being perceived as philanthropic architects, intervening on humanitarian grounds. In reality, they negotiate from positions of extreme concentrations of wealth, technical expertise and political influence. The philanthropic framing robs dissenters of what remains of their ability to withdraw consent: How can one object to saving lives?

 

## “There is a part of my high-school globo-claustrophobia that has never left me, and in some ways only seems to intensify as time creeps along. ***What haunts me is not exactly the absence of literal space so much as a deep craving for metaphorical space: release, escape, some kind of open-ended freedom.” → WHAT DO WE WHEN THERE IS NO MORE SPACE LEFT** [* [The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism](https://naomiklein.org/the-shock-doctrine/) Naomi Klein, Knopf Canad]

- From the role cryptocurrencies play in emergent dark web marketplaces, to the well-funded efforts by IPFS to produce a ‘faster, safer, and more open internet,’ the decentralised community seeks to antagonise a powerful status quo whilst making tradeoffs that do not acknowledge how societies directly threaten their communities. Combined with this antagonism, the lack of investment in privacy techniques as a priority is catastrophic. Users are asked to administrate, govern and participate politically in networks they don’t fully understand. As these networks are decentralised away from concentrated power, their risk, and political and economic capital are equally decentralised. The antagonistic rhetoric of these systems mean that participants are naïve to these risks. Whether pushing for political revolution, offering sex-work online, or buying drugs with cryptocurrency, these participants are as doomed as the victims of file-sharing lawsuits before them. [DANGERS OF P2P]


- Despite its polished aesthetics and It Just Works mantra, we can almost see these incumbent powers beginning to buckle. Centralised platforms crave data collection and thirst for trust from the communities they seek to exploit. These platforms sell bloated, overpowered hardware that cannot be repaired, vulnerable to drops in consumer spending or spasms in the supply chain. They anxiously eye legislation to compel encryption backdoors, which will further weaken the trust they need so badly. They wobble beneath network disruptions (such as the worldwide slowdowns in March under COVID-19 load surges) that incapacitate cloud-dependent devices. They sleep with one eye open in countries where authoritarian governments compel them or their employees to operate as an informal arm of enforcement. These current trajectories point to the accelerating erosion of centralised platform power. YAAAAAAAAAYYYY !!!!!


- We need to lay aside our delusions that decentralisation grants us immunity – any ground ceded to the commons will be met with amplified resistance from those who already own these spaces.

 

This global instability demands platform reform. PLATFORM REFORM !!!