I have a problem. Make that, two problems.
The first is that my father, like many fathers the world over, is an email addict. He sends to me and untold others more political emails in one day than any non-cybernetic being could realistically be expected to read.
This is not an isolated problem.
A good friend of mine commiserated only yesterday that her own father- a business partner of Henry Kissinger- sends her no less than fifteen emails daily on a variety of subjects, including jewelry making, dog-walking, real estate and the composition of chocolate bars. Surely these dads have better things to do?
But I am hardly in a position to throw stones. I understand the lure of the internet as well as any of the verbose fathers of my acquaintance. Love of the electronic realm is at the heart (no pun intended) of my second problem: I am a thief.
I wasn't raised a thief. I never put a package of Ho-Ho's down my pants at the local Kwik-E-Mart. I've never taken two papers out of a stand after paying for one. I don't even take pennies out of the take-a-penny tray. And yet, every year I acquire in excess of $10,000 of material for which I did not pay. And, if you have a child over the age of 7, your kid is a thief, too.
We steal information.
On my computer, I currently have every episode of 'The Simpsons', 'Star Trek', and the late, lamented 'Family Guy'. I have a few episodes of 'Dr.Katz', a whole sheaf of 'Mystery Science Theater 3000''s, and almost the entire run of Michael Moore's definitive series, 'The Awful Truth'. The popular show 'Scrubs' is still running- so I only have every episode up to last week. But maybe you'd rather watch a movie? How about 'X-Men', 'Spiderman', 'My Big Fat Greek Wedding', the great independent movie 'Secretary', the original 'Duck Soup', or the restored version of 1942's 'Holiday Inn'? I have 'The Incredible Hulk'. It's due to be released in two months.
I only have hundreds of movies. That's not much when you compare it to the amount of music which I illegally possess. Perhaps you'd care to browse through the tens of thousands of CD's I "own"?
You wouldn't be alone.
All of my friends have browsed my collection, and I theirs. It's how our collections and computer knowledge grows: trading with friends, finding an IRC server, or downloading from an eDonkey site. I have never heard anyone express remorse of any kind for this massive theft. It costs 20 cents for the recording industry to buy and burn a wholesale CD. It costs $19.95 for you to buy a retail CD. At Best Buy the other day, I saw a 'Star Trek' DVD collection. EACH season cost $149.99. Just for comparision, I decided to download the entire series. It took 27 hours and cost me $0.00, for a savings of only $1,199.00.
So now you know: I am a thief. And there's nothing anyone can do about it. File-sharing programs these days, like eDonkey (and unlike Kazaa and Napster) are utterly anonymous. No one can find out which computer has been downloading any file, not even the owners of the server. And when eDonkey in time becomes entrenched in the political imbroglios that brought down the likes of Kazaa and Napster, two more, made by college students like myself, will rise up to take its place. It's the hydra of the 21st century.
I worry about those email addicted fathers. They worry about the war. I want to console and reassure them, to give them advice from my own struggles on how to deal with a heartless multinational corporation like the U.S. government, but in my heart I know they must learn on their own. If only they had our experience, the grand sum of our successes and failures in our fight for free(music)dom. But you know grown-ups: try to tell them anything, and they'll dig in their heels and lay back their ears.
A pathetic skeleton crew of anti-war protestors haunts my university campus. They're easy to pick out: sad, dull-eyed, sheep-faced individuals with placards dragging on the ground behind them. We try not to make eye contact, knowing that they are doomed to both failure and public censure. If our generation has learned anything, it's that any institution worth bringing down can only be brought down from the inside out. Every large corporation worth its Enron stock these days knows better than to leave the front door unguarded. Participating in anti-war rallies, using infamous trading software like Napster- only a fool would attack the most heavily guarded points. Bush comes out with empty concilatory phrases that manage to co-opt the anti-war slogans of the anti-war protestors. Napster is now run by the recording industry.
It is pointless to debate an enemy with an army of lawyers and speechwriters. The wiliest anti-war advocates I know aren't master debaters. The most powerful sentences they string together are written, not in English, but in code. Five of these hackers can do more against the war than every e-mailing father in the country.
Things in the Middle East have gone terribly wrong for the U.S. Army. Though the so-called "media" (still trying to charge for information- they'll be going the way of the recording industry soon) wasn't able to pick up the information, a huge number of computer glitches have plagued the troops already stationed near the Iraqui border. Food is misdelivered, supplies go astray, messages arrive at their destinations garbled and unreadable- a supply of munitions, when unpacked, was revealed to mysteriously be a thousand boxes of Kleenex.
Our poor fathers. They worry themselves to distraction about the impending war, debating endlessly yet not actually doing anything, clinging to the limited success they won protesting in the 1960's. If only we could send them a coded message, just a little reassurance to them on this new 21st century war: "Don't worry. We've got it under control. The crow flies at midnight. And thanks for buying us our first computer".
(Editor's note: Ciara Neill is a student at Tulane University. The 'dad out there' in this instance is the publisher of The Memphis Flyer, who -- as mentioned -- has something of an Internet habit himself.