What is a P2P Mensch?

A meditation on P2P ethics by Ryan Lanham:

A mensch is a person of integrity and honor. These are very old age words. Can they be applied to a new age media phenomenon like P2P?

Speed, zip, bang. The web invents brevity and tolerates partial and ill-formed, ill-spelled, slang, emotives, emoticons, and poly-participation. It doesn’t give a doodle about grammar. Anonymity covers a great deal of malicious and perverted actions and mental health is often lost or demonstrably splattered all over forums, dialogues and tweets.

Is it hopeless? Yes. It is. For those who crave 19th century styled penmanship and ideas carefully framed with sentences that ring of perfect craftsmanship the (post?) modernism of the P2P world is like setting a skyscraper next to old art gallery. It is the French Academy versus the Impressionists. It is…well, next topic. You get the idea…

It turns out the essay isn’t dead. It is less formal, but people do reflect and focus when something causes them to consider the value of a topic greater than the deadline of immediacy. Some still take time to turn a phrase and others retreat into the old ways hoping the web is a fad. It isn’t. Academics feeling demure about being messy are going to be screwed.

So what does a mench do in such an environment? He or she (or soon…it) is polite. Full of self-doubt. Accepting of the mishmash and bric-a-brac world that is the web and still respectful that eyes must read something and minds must try to connect.

“Mensches” share. They participate. They realize that governance requires support and involvement when there is not time…not one extra second to absorb one new responsibility or one new stupid tidbit when there is so much of value to be read, scanned, bookmarked and ultimately processed or not processed into some new form. Mensches go local in their communities and stop building elitist hierarchies to protect their precious…stuff.

Mostly P2P mensches try very hard to make sense of what’s going on. Sensemaking is invaluable to others. They need help in seeing the forest for the clichés. It isn’t a job that can be done with the pride of perfection—being a P2P mensch—it leaves those who aspire to this thankless and low-wage job with self-doubt, a feeling we are too occupied with machines and screens, and a sense that we are behind…always, always behind. It is the new normal. Get used to it. And be a mensch.

5 Comments What is a P2P Mensch?

  1. AvatarStefan Meretz

    I didn’t know that »Mensch« — the german word for human being — has such an emphatic meaning in english! »Be a Mensch« — we can’t do it otherwise.

  2. AvatarJo Jordan

    Are we behind or it just there is no longer one dimension of status?

    See Jurvetson’s prediction of search by which browsers are open? Pretty exciting to simply ask who is paying attention. Who has this is their priority this second?

  3. AvatarRyan Lanham


    In Yiddish, and now English, Mensch carries the broader meaning. It calls a person to performance, not just being.

  4. AvatarRyan Lanham


    We are behind…AND there are new dimensions of status. I think you are onto something though. Time is folding inside the web. The odd mixture of reflective time, immediate chat-like time and semi-thought blog time is having to be sorted out in each individual mind. Some aren’t coping. Some are finding a new way to live.


  5. AvatarJon Husband

    Time is folding inside the web. The odd mixture of reflective time, immediate chat-like time and semi-thought blog time is having to be sorted out in each individual mind

    I agree with this, and have been writing (translating, mostly, the work of Michel Cartier (www.michelcartier.com) retired from the Universite de Quebec a Montreal) about this issue in some detail over the last several months.

    I will be interested in your opinions when “Constellation W – towards a model for a knowledge-based society” goes online again near the end of June. The first version was online a couple of years ago, but suffered from poor navigational design and was incomplete. Hopefully iyt will be more interesting and more useful this time around.

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