This article examines the 'digital city' debate of the mid 1990s as a point of departure for a media-historical questioning of how technology and the discourse about technology were used as an experimental playground for new forms of knowledge that are fundamental for the understanding of today’s network society. This text has been presented as a conference paper at the 'networks and sustainability' track of the 'textiles' conference in Riga in June 2010. The paper will also appear in a special edition of the Arts and Communications Journal edited by RIXC at the end of 2010.
Once a minor practice in places of privilege in the global North, internet-enabled file-sharing via peer-to-peer (P2P) systems has evolved into a vast, transglobal activity. Engaging millions of participants, P2P is decentralised, deeply networked, grass roots-driven, polycultural phenomenon growing exponentially. It appears uncontainable, as each wave of technological, legal and commercial measures designed to halt or divert it fail. Moreover, pressure exerted 'from above' by governments and multinational industry alliances becomes a productive force within geographically dispersed, globalised P2P networks and communities. Technical and social innovations are generated 'from below' in order to protect and expand “cultures of sharing,” or “piracy.” Paradoxically, these innovations become mainstreamed as they force corporations to adopt new business models in response to 'market' desires.