On social network guilt (or swarms, nodes, and helping each other through med school)

I find myself feeling guilty for utilizing the resources of others. I feel like a leecher.

Attending medical school in the first stages of the internet-age means that I am trying not to drown in an abundance of information. Free YouTube videos that explain a complex intracellular signaling cascade rival our PhD professors in presentation clarity. The problem is not finding quality study guides– the difficulty is making the time to utilize all of the resources available.

Leading into an exam, a flurry of activity takes over our med school social media groups. Individuals post their study products– taking the form of student-written practice exams, PDFs that synthesize the important neuroanatomical structures into a stream-lined piece, or excel spreadsheets that collate the insertions, origins, and functions of muscles into a logical format. Students post these easily digestible resources without expecting a reward in return, except perhaps social credit.

Thinking of my medical school class as a network of individuals connected by social media, I am inclined to compare us to online file-sharing methods such as torrenting. Within the torrenting community, or swarm-based online file-sharing, you are either a seeder or a leecher, and the health of the network relates directly to the number of contributing nodes.

Torrents distribute files by breaking them down into discreet bits of data. A seeder uploads bits of files to others, so that they can be further disseminated. Seeders are essential to a file’s ability to spread– think of seeding as donating your bandwidth to the swarm in thanks and appreciate for the original file. You receive, then you give back. A leecher downloads the bits of files, without contributing to the swarm. A leecher can turn into a seeder by the simple virtue of uploading.

The health of a torrented file is usually measured by the ratio of seeders to leechers– if there are many seeders to a file, then it can be quickly and easily distributed to anyone interested. if there are are many leechers but few seeders, then the file’s dissemination is bottlenecked by the bandwidth of the few.

Further, a single torrent does not make a community– a network will organically distribute many different files with varying levels of popularity. Most communities attempt to get files out as quickly as possible, creating large amount of seeders to match the high demand for their torrents. Think of the trading floor of a stock market. Other networks thrive on a few seeders faithfully distributing many rare files that are in relatively low demand. Think of an antique pawn shop.

As a student struggling to maintain passing grades, I utilize my peers’ resources to the best of my ability. I study their PDFs and attempt to learn from their practice exams. In other words, I leech off of their study products. The students that contribute to the med school swarm are notable and prolific– they seed their information out and we thank them profusely.

My guilt lies in my inability to seed my own study products. I cannot match my peers; I am barely able to synthesize the information the night before an exam, let alone a week before test day so that others have enough time to effectively learn.

But, this is a shallow view on the health of the medical school swarm. Study products do not make a community. My contribution to the network is in the extracurriculars, such as guided meditations and my insistence that everyone should try float tanks. I work on the fringes, faithfully seeding odd ideas for those interested, knowing that not everyone will want what I offer.

My peers can handle the high traffic aspects of the swarm. I thrive on the edge of the circle, because that’s where the most interesting things happen.

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