We live in a world where the spread of ideas and information has rapidly changed over the last decade or two. Above all else, the rise of internet surely has to be considered among the top inventions of the past century. Invention may not be the optimal word here, since the idea of physical devices that allow transference of signals is hardly new, however, the impact internet has made on the global populous cannot be underappreciated. This is predominantly important from the relative ease of access to independent research of a given topic and the availability of more of less any type of document, video and anything and everything that can be digitized both for our pleasure and learning.
Internet is a tool like any other where you can find the worst of the worst and the best of the best. The reason for this is that the level of subjectivity on a given site is higher, so the content is potentially less critical, while on the other hand there is unbridled freedom of potentially greater truth to be found, since censorship can’t be compared to what we see and are told on TV for example (or rather don’t see and are kept in the dark). In either case, we will always be caught between the rock of what we choose to believe and the hard place of what we are actually able to conceive.
Before I turn this whole process into a relativistic smorgasbord, the point is that we are experiencing a time in which we have exponentially more and more information at our fingertips … the real issue is how to manage it. This is in true de Saussurian terms a gift and a curse at the same time. As much as we have potential quick access to just about any topic of inquiry, we are subjugated by the nature of our very being to only a few of them, because the sheer volume of the informational repository is vastly beyond the capacity of any savant to conquer in full. We are cursed to be at best temporal experts in whatever we do and anything that interests us. If I take my interest in comics for example, there’s practically no way of reading every single comic ever published (in any tradition, let alone the Anglo-American one), since the effort of keeping in touch with current goings-on is hectic enough. Taking into account the temporal, financial, ideological and psychological issues, the game of being an “expert” quickly turns into a guessing game of choices and sacrifices, because artistic totality and perfection are sadly unattainable. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t strive towards it. The road towards greatness is rooted in knowledge and the spread of information. In a nice reciprocal way we share the information we lean through the work/art we do … which is also the most intimate and long-lasting connection between the personal and the social sphere, between receiving something and giving it back.
How does all that relate to torrents, as the “ruthless” method of illegal sharing of said information? There’s surely some absurdity in being liberal with other people’s work. Indeed it is, but that’s not really the point. We can have an interesting ideological debate about how much for example the movie and music industries are “suffering” because of illegal piracy, when top-grossing movies and artists are making more and more money. It comes down to facts. The fact is that illegal downloading equals to stealing, but the hidden fact behind it is that by doing so you are still spreading the name of the commodity you blatantly took for your own (the ol’ catch-22 of no publicity is bad publicity). If you think that the movie industry is hindered for example by the thousands of downloads of various shitty cam versions of a summer blockbuster, you have to look at all the algorithms. The very same method of sharing makes internet a global commodity and currently the fastest and most efficient means of making your voice heard and your product visible. What’s the difference between you buying a film and watching it with five friends as opposed to them downloading the shaky HD-rip with embedded Korean subtitles? I’d say that the monetary equation stays the same. But that’s not really the whole story. We have to take into account the drinks and food that generally accompany one’s viewing pleasure, especially in theaters (and also subliminal advertising). The widespread net of net gain is so complex that we can’t understand things in isolating … and there will always be either an agenda or a dependence on sharing your product. Plus, never underestimate the value of time. The price of time it takes you to go over any product often trumps the monetary price of it. Everyone reading this blog is “paying” for it with their time, pure and simple (and it doesn’t go unappreciated :)). The level of entertainment, illumination or just pure nonsense you get out of it is secondary.
Not to condone piracy, but there’s something to be said about the range of products you can find on the “free” internet. There’s been plenty of documentaries and books I’ve come across on torrents that I wouldn’t have found anywhere else. I still don’t quite understand how that’s possible, because they couldn’t have just appeared in vacuum. I though ex nihilo creation was reserved for mythology (and the Big Bang … ahem). Also, I’ve illegally downloaded books, but I bought them later on, because I’m old-school and I need a physical copy. The binary digitalized versions don’t do much to me. Plus, you give respect to the artist and creator, which should always trump everything else.
In either case, I feel that internet piracy is hardly understood … or at least it’s caught between the egoistic conservative right that would charge you for the air that you breathe and the extreme liberal left that wouldn’t pay even a cent for a product out of spite. The reality is far from either of the two scenarios. The whole Napster issue years ago about illegal music downloads turned into a broader torrent sharing service. This is in turn getting devoured by the models such as iTunes, Netflix and even online gaming of internet streaming services, where you are charged for every product, although less and less, so your loyalty towards it (hopefully) becomes long-term (insert the Scrooge McDuck and Mr. Burns laugh tracks). Such micro capitalism ensures a steady trickle-down effect and in a sly way tries to play on the morale of piracy, where the consumer is urged more towards the idea that you need that product on a daily basis and it becomes like the phone bill you get every month – you’ll pay for it effortlessly, if not somewhat unconsciously, because you need the service (at all costs).
So, is sharing caring? Yes and no. It gets hard to see beyond the monetary monster that the hard capitalism of today has become, so we can easily get trapped in the reality of our current existence, where we run around in our own little world of (forced) demands and (blind) obedience. As they say, we don’t stop and smell the roses … because they’re hard to be found in the concrete jungles and digital safe zones of our being. Internet is many things, but it’s most important attribute is its sharing power (even beyond the eyes of the big brother or the ensuing artificial intelligence gathering). The validity and meaning of information itself will always be under scrutiny, as it should be, so we don’t succumb to neither dormancy nor complacency.
I used to think that torrents have replaced sex as the taboo in our world of liberal delights, but internet porn still far outweighs them, plus the YouTube modus operandi is becoming more and more prominent. Partly because of its passive recipient approach, but that’s already been the idea behind the whole film industry from the get-go. At the end of the day(s), the information age will only get stronger, so let’s just hope the servers and back-up logs are sturdy enough at the banks, because no dam can hold the torrents of comprehension.
For reasons of extreme prejudice, the author of this blog wishes to remain anonymous …