It would be interesting to compare the demographics of illegal filesharers with those of the rioters. Both are commonly thought to be young people. But how different are the two activities? Arguably, some young rioters effected a transposition of the widespread anonymous ‘freedom to’ - piracy - practiced online into offline space. It is provocative to consider how the underage status of some of the participants intersects with this reading. Aware of not being seen as adults they considered themselves invisible to law. At least, this is what the cops and press have already complained about. Thus, youth status was being deployed in a manner akin to an online pseudonym and an offline mask concealing the ‘real person’: a ‘freedom from’ enabling a piratical ‘freedom to’. The brazen lack of material masks worn by some of the underage actors registers this attitude and, paradoxically, represents a claim to 'adult' behaviour.
Although age ‘protects’ from some aspects of law (freedom from) by the same token it rules out full participation in all aspects of civil life, such as voting etc. In this sense, young people’s ‘freedom to’ is limited offline. The lore of teenage rebellion, invented in the mid twentieth century, was built around a manifest rejection/reaction to this fact, performed - in part - by expressions of ‘freedom to’ through sexuality – enacting or at least willing physical liberty in spite of hegemonic morality. Losing ones virginity in an overt way was the watershed mark of independence and a claim on adulthood even before 'legal age' was reached. Now, consider the kind of discussions taking place online at 4chan, where every user post is credited to Anonymous – a site which has also generated a notorious hacker network of the same non-referential name – where losing one’s virginity has been eclipsed by another ultimate marker of ‘freedom to’:
At what ages did the following happen to you:
1) Learn to use torrents
2) Lose virginity
The majority of the respondents posted younger ages for torrent use than for sex. Using torrents – at least as implied by the question here, because every seeking is guided by what is sought – is not just any old thing. In quarters such as 4chan it represents the ultimate immaterial freedom – the non-physical expression of liberty. If the teenager was invented in the twentieth century - or made visible – then at least part of its structure was premised on overturning the trauma of social/legal/cultural invisibility. Now the key trauma is being too visible and rites of passage are invisible/anonymous and piratical.