Bean Torrent is a game in the Mancala family that is designed to create a living memory of the file sharing protocol BitTorrent. The game is like other Mancala games in the sense that it consists of a simple board design and some type of bean, seed, or stones for the game pieces, and that game play consists of moving the pieces from one place to another.
Bean Torrent is different from many other types of Mancala games in that the formal design of the board is nonlinear and that the objective is to distribute the pieces rather than collect them. In Bean Torrent the objective is to distribute all of the pieces evenly throughout the board in the least amount of moves. The reason that I was interested in the Mancala family is that it has had the ability to transcend culture, time, and technology. I thought that by using Mancala as a conceptual vehicle it might be possible to maintain and preserve the fundamental principals of a network protocol outside the constraints of the technology that it evolved from. This effort is important because it makes certain social developments that are evolving from within networked culture accessible to a much wider population and reconnects virtual politics with real life. What kinds of effects could the BitTorrent protocol add to an indigenous agricultural society? Whatever changes taking place in social interaction as it exists on the world wide web and other digital read/write networks are normally unavailable to any population that might be limited by it’s access to technology. Many theorists believe that this difference may create the rise of an ever more drastic split in social classes based not on monetary capital but instead on access to informational transactions. Some people believe that the answer to this problem is bringing technology to the people who don’t have access to it. Leapfrogging projects that try to develop an inexpensive laptop or ad hoc wireless networks in effort of leveling the technological playing field seem to me only part of the solution. Today, the majority of the worlds population does not have direct access to the network, those few who do have access are struggling to understand why their online relationships are also defined as consumer generated content and how their life online relates to their life off line. There are no constructive tools available to individuals for building an understanding of informational transactions and network presence. This is an area of research that is conducted almost exclusively by corporate interests alone. When we think of social programs that are trying to provide cell phones to people in Africa and are sponsored by a multinational corporation we could see that as an explicit attempt by the corporation to gain early access to an untapped natural resource, which is namely a social network that has not yet been formed. The idea of Bean Torrent is important also in the sense that if all p2p network protocols could somehow be regulated or restricted at some point, the ideological principals that are built into the protocol could survive off line to be rebuilt again at some later point in the development and evolution of the network. Even if the game itself is simple and maybe boring, that’s not what’s important. The linkage between the virtual and the real is what is important to me in this work. An idea that was developed out of a need that existed in a virtual space instantiated in a real space to create new uses and at the same time preserve the concept redundantly.