Clients and Servers

We are so used to thinking in terms of “clients” and “servers”. What do those words mean? Are they purely technical terms for a certain architecture, or is there more to it?

On a technical level, it is the “server” that performs  a lot of hard work. It makes available storage space, bandwidth and processing power. The “client” on the other hand uses those services and acts merely as a thin frontend for display and input/output purposes. This is how classic centralized architectures work. Centralized architectures are becoming more and more important, and they are given marketing terms such as “Cloud Computing” or “Software as a Service (SaaS)”.

But what if we analyze the above terms “client” and “server” from a human perspective? They suggest that the “server” produces something for the “client” to use. On the technical level, that may be true, but who is it that produces all the things that really matter – ideas, content, messages? It is US, the individuals. The “clients”. And it is the “servers” that receive those valuable goods, and unfortunately, in many cases abuse them.

So, are those terms really justified? Maybe we should begin to think of ourselves as the “servers”. :)

This idea is similar to how Karl Marx criticized the German terms “Arbeitnehmer” and “Arbeitgeber”. This is what they mean in English when you look them up in a dictionary:

“Arbeitnehmer” = “employee”

“Arbeitgeber” = “employer”

The above is a translation of practical meaning. The LITERAL translation however is quite interesting:

“Arbeitnehmer” = “receiver of work”

“Arbeitgeber” = “giver of work”

So, in German, the “employee” is the “receiver of work”, while the “employer” is the “giver of work”. Marx argued this should be reversed, because it is really the “employee” who is producing something, and it is the “employer” who is receiving it. Just like it is the case with “clients” and “servers”.

How do these thoughts relate to efforts of building P2P systems?

The wealth of the Information Society lies within control over users and control over data, which is currently heavily centralized at the “servers”.  If we are trying to redistribute this wealth, i.e. transfer it from the big players to the people, does that mean we’re all communists?

I don’t believe this is true, and I am sure tons of papers and blogs exist on this topic, but just in case I’d like to propose the following flag for the emerging new P2P movements </joke> :D

P2P Flag

Peers of the world, unite!

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