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TechPost02: A Historical Framework

March 19, 2010

In order to fully explore the historical framework of file sharing it must be established that P2P file sharing serves a specific role in modern society. It allows us to quickly and easily spread information and entertainment. It could be classified as a “many to many” technology as users can easily interact with other users. Modern P2P networks have only existed for a short time in the span of world history. Before file sharing there were other technologies which allowed for the spread of knowledge and media. These forms of communication surfaced in the pre-industrial, industrial and post-industrial eras.

The Industrial Revolution

The industrial era describes the time period when manufacturing and factories became widespread and popular. This largely European shift happened from around 1760 to 1850. A major innovation of the Industrial Revolution was the steam engine (Mokyr, 2005). This could be considered one of the very early predecessors to P2P file sharing. The locomotion and railway system (the adopted application of steam engine technology), was one of the first ways in which people, goods and raw materials could be rapidly transported from place to place. Before the Internet and modern media (film, television, and recorded music), people had to share things by either personally delivering them or getting someone else to do so. By taking or employing trains people were able to decrease their travel time (giving them the potential to share with more people, given more time). About 6,000 miles of tracks were introduced between 1830 and 1850 (Weller & Bawden, 2005). The introduction of this new transit system revolutionized living. Economic changes occurred as people began taking jobs in fields like transport and communication. If this shift had not happened, the world would be a very different place today.


The postindustrial era includes all the time after the industrial revolution to the present day. This period roughly spans from 1850 onwards. During this time thing like films, recorded music, television the telephone, and computers were developed and subsequently mass-produced. Perhaps one of the most influential predecessors to P2P file sharing is the aforementioned television. In the early 1920’s this revolutionary cool media was born. Modern file sharing programs are used to spread movies, music and television shows. Television stations broadcast various programs into the homes of viewers each day. People can simply turn on the tube to see shows. Many stations are specifically devoted to playing music and distributing songs to viewers worldwide. Even movies are played on TV once they reach the point of syndication. This device has changed human behavior and influenced the lives of a generation. Many people live their lives around when and where program air (Buonanno, 2007, p.14) and it has altered modern mass communication. This one-to-many technology has impacted and changed western life.

P2P in the Pre-Industrial Era

Before the industrial era began in 1760, humanity changed and adapted many times. From the beginning of recorded history there have been many ways in which people have distributed information. Without mass transportation modes like trains and busses people had to travel by foot and on horseback. One could say that the precursor to digital peer-to-peer sharing is manual peer-to-peer sharing. People getting together and trading stories, the lost art of conversation. People could share on a one-to-one scale or a one-to-many scale if they spoke to a large group. Communication from person to person (weather written in a letter or spoken) has been very important for a long time and is the lifeblood of the post-tribal historical period.


Behringer, W. (2006). Communications Revolutions: A Historiographical Concept. German History, 24(3), 333-374. doi:10.1191/0266355406gh378oa.

Buonanno, M. (2007). Age of television: Experiences and theories. Chicago: Intellect Books.

Mokyr, J. (2005). Industrial revolution. In The Oxford Encyclopedia of Economic History: (e-reference edition). Retrieved from:

Weller, T., & Bawden, D. (2005). The social and technological origins of the information society: An analysis of the crisis of control in England, 1830-1900. Journal of Documentation, 61(6), 777-802. doi:10.1108/00220410510632086.


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