2.3.A. Placing P2P in the context of the evolution of technology

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2.3.A. Placing P2P in the context of the evolution of technology

Premodern technology was participative, and not as differentiated and autonomous. The instruments of artisans were extensions of their bodies, with which they ‘cooperated’. The social lifeworld, was not yet as differentiated into different spheres or into subject/object distinctions, since they saw themselves, not as much as separate and autonomous individuals, but much more as parts of a whole, following the dictates of the whole (holism), moving in a world dominated by spirits, the spirits of men (the ancestors), of the natural world, and of the objects they used. (Dumont, 1981).

Modern technology could be said to be differentiated (division of labour, differentiation of social fields, relative autonomy of technological evolution), but is no longer participative. The subject-object dichotomy means that nature becomes a resource to be used (objects used by subjects). But the object, the technological instrument, also becomes autonomous, and in the factory system typical of modernity, a dramatic reversal takes place: it is the human who becomes a ‘dumb’ extension of the machine. The intelligence is not so much located in the machine, but in the organization of the production, of which both humans and machines are mere cogs. Modern machines are not by itself intelligent, and are organized in hierarchical frameworks. Modern humans think themselves as autonomous agents using objects, but become themselves objects of the systems of their own creation. This is the drama of modernity, the key to its alienation.

In post-modernity, machines become intelligent (though not in the same way as humans, they can only use the intelligence put in them by the humans, and so far lack the creative innovation, problem-solving and decision-making capabilities). While the old paradigm of humans as objects in a system certainly persists, a new paradigm is being born. The intelligent machines become computers, extensions now of the human brain and nervous system (instead of being extensions of the external limbs and internal functions of the body in the industrial system). Humans again start cooperating with the computers, seen as extensions of their selves, their memories, their logical processes, but also and this is crucial: it enables affective communication amongst a much wider global community of humans. Of course, within the context of cognitive capitalism (defined as the third phase of capitalism where immaterial processes are more important than the material production; where information ‘as property’ becomes the key asset), all this still operates in a wider context of exploitation and domination, but the potential is there for a new model which allies both differentiation (the autonomous individual retains his freedom and prerogatives), and participation. Within the information paradigm, the world of matter (nanotech), life (biotech) and mind (AI) are reduced to their informational basis, which can be manipulated, and this opens up nightmarish possibilities of the extension of the resource-manipulation paradigm, now involving our very own bodies and psyches. However, because of the equally important paradigm of participation, the possibility arises of a totally new, subjective-objective, cooperative way of looking at this, and this is an element of hope.

According to the reworking of Foucault's insights by Deleuze and Guattari, there is a clear connection between the type of society and the type of technology that is dominant. Simple mechanistical machines were dominant in the classical period of modernity, the period of sovereignity (18th cy.); thermodynamic systems became dominant in the 19th cy, inaugurating disciplinary societies; finally Deleuze dates the advent of control societies, to the advent of cybernetic machines and computers. Our sections on the evolution of power will detail this aspect of the evolution of technology.