“Hello. My name is Jay and I am an addict.”
“I have been clean now for two years.”
“I want to take some time today to tell you about my personal struggle to kick the habit of piracy.”
The above conversation never took place audibly, but there have been many times thinking back on my high school and college (read: technologically formative) years that I am surprised that I was able to kick the habit before being take for all I was worth. The short version reads: I got into bittorrent and P2P too early for my own good. I started innocently enough as we all did, I suppose. Bittorrent was an easy way to connect with likeminded individuals who wanted to share large pieces of information quickly and anonymously and, some of the time, legitimately. Similarly, Napster, Audiogalaxy, and many other services that provided any number of ways to get the content I desired as a poor student enabled me to pirate metric (boat)loads of content. At the time, I think the general consensus regarded the lack of policing of content. Who’s to say that grabbing content is wrong if there is no one saying it is wrong and, seemingly, no one getting hurt in the process. However, since then I have realized two things that I would like to discuss: people do get hurt over time and, as a person with a minimalist lifestyle, content causes clutter.
The thing is a lot has been written regarding piracy recently because it seems to have gotten more public just how out of control the practice is. Some like to blame the production companies, while others blame the users themselves. Meanwhile, here I am just attempting to be the frugal, patient, and otherwise disconnected person I am. It gets hard from time to time. I get hooked on a show because its first season has been released in a legitimate format, whatever that may be. The second season just finished airing on cable distributor X, but I know I won’t see it through those legitimate sources for two years. In these instances I have been tempted to play the victim and go get it where I can or connect with friends who are not yet legit and have downloaded the content I seek; this route is of course no better than downloading the content myself, I just use less digital bandwidth. Instead, the digital bandwidth is used by someone else and I delude myself into thinking that I somehow earned the content because I replaced my digital bandwidth with physical bandwidth; “I had to do the legwork, so I deserve this digital file!”
Marco Arment has been particularly vocal and I like his take on it. In short: if you are complaining that you were pushed to piracy by the companies that make the content, you are fighting the wrong battle; don’t watch the shows at all if you want them to listen to your distaste. Go read Marco’s commentaries on the subject, as it is worth your time and I agree with his point of view emphatically. This all started with an article from The Daily Beast, which succinctly states that cable companies aren’t forcing people to pirate, let alone even watch, their shows. They are running a good business based on the desires of their audiences and potential audiences. Honestly, Megan McArdle’s got a point! While I was getting content from less than reputable sources, I was doing so because I desired to be in the know about that said content. If the content wasn’t desirable, we wouldn’t be having this conversation.
Back to my personal struggle story, though, I slowly realized that my downloading hurt the bottom line, not of the cable companies themselves, but of the people that were creating the content that I so desired. Yes, I want to be able to watch Game of Thrones now instead of a year from now, but that means I need to go to where the content is, not ask the content to come to me. Secondly, I want HBO to be able to create content that is desirable and that means they have to charge a lot of money to make things like “Blackwater”. Someday, I hope that companies like HBO are able to make their amazing programs in a way that is more easily consumable for more people and make it profitable, but for the time being, I will have to be patient or simply not care.
Content causes clutter, if for no other reason than digital hoarding has become a real problem, even for those that have no problems with physical hoarding. With the birth of cloud services, having local content is becoming a thing of the past; like dial-up Internet connections, there is cruft that comes with local content that is slowly being whittled away by persistent connections and cheaper cloud storage. When looking at my iTunes library full of Music, TV Shows, and Movies, most of which were originally ripped from CDs and DVDs, I see the vestiges of the old guard. I see that the majority of it is not backed up off-site and I wonder how I would feel were I to lose any of it. Interestingly enough, it might be a kind of freedom; a way to cast off the oppressive nature of caring about insignificant bits and bytes that may or may not have been connected to a life a no longer live.
Going Legit, as I have called it since I started, is an exercise in self-control as much as it is a reminder that some things in this world are simply not important enough to steal, let alone think about. What I have found since going legit is that I spend more time thinking about the things I purchase, watch, or borrow from friends. I spend less time with content about which I do not care and more time waxing reminiscent or retrospective on content about which I once cared deeply.