Maybe it’s because I work in computers for a living and know firsthand the perils of Version 1.0 (of anything), but when it comes to technology, I’m no early adopter.
I’m a Mac specialist, but I learned to use OSX only when I had to support other OSX users. I’m a musician and a music fan, but I only checked out filesharing when I finally felt obligated to have an informed opinion about it. My wife and I were probably the last among our friends to get a DVD player, and we just bought our first digital camera.
We’re even waiting to have kids until technology can make sure they don’t come out depressed. 😉
I think I’m accelerating, though. I just downloaded my first BitTorrent file – a mere four years after the technology debuted.
No, I didn’t really need a collection of 700-odd music files contributed by this year’s crop of South By Southwest (SXSW) festival bands, though I’m happy to have it. And yes, someone could have collected all these MP3s on a single DVD and distributed it by old-fashioned mail. But that would have been a waste of plastic and postage. And more important, it would have been much less cool.
BitTorrent is a true P2P (peer-to-peer) technology. Shared files are served up from the users’ hard drives, not a central server. All you need is a lightweight piece of software and a small text file (the .torrent file) that serves as a pointer to the large file you wish to download.
There are BitTorrent “tracker” servers, but they do not host files; rather, they assist your computer to search the Internet for other computers that are sharing or acquiring the same file you want. (A new iteration called eXeem™ even eliminates the tracker servers.) Your computer joins the “swarm” and your client software starts to download bits and pieces of the file from its various sources and put them together on your hard drive. Simultaneously, your computer begins to “serve up” to other members of the swarm the bits it has already downloaded. “Seeding” is encouraged. “Leeching” is not.
I don’t expect to be using BitTorrent to download files that weren’t intended to be shared this way. I feel guilty downloading songs (though I’ve been known to do it), and I expect I’d feel proportionally guiltier downloading something much bigger, like a movie. Getting my feet wet by downloading a huge (2.6 GB) collection of music by artists of no doubt highly variable quality, most of which I probably won’t have time to listen to anyway, seems rather appropriate, in fact. I contributed to my first swarm, and I contributed to the argument that P2P’s legimitate uses justify its existence and necessitate its availability.
BitTorrent is an incredibly useful and clever technology. It’s being used to distribute magazines like this one, operating systems like Linux, jam band concert recordings (with the blessing of the artists), and, in commerce, as a way for folks with limited bandwidth at their disposal to distribute their digital products more widely than they otherwise could.
It’s also being used extensively for infringing purposes – notably, to share movies. But don’t do that. 🙂
A final note: I also tried downloading a small pornographic Torrent file. Purely for research purposes, you understand. But to view my downloaded file I had to go through such a rigamarole of digital red tape that I gave up. If the governments of the world really want to protect us from cybercrime and cyberterrorism, they should just ask the Internet porn industry how it’s done.