Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Performance theft (12 March 2009)

Wired reports on a mobile-phone application that lets a user scan a barcode of a DVD and launch a bit-torrent download of it at their home (link via BoingBoing). Somehow this seems more like stealing than using a search engine to find a torrent in the privacy of one's own home. Handling the object you will no longer have to buy seems to make tangible the notion of intellectual-property theft, which makes me wonder why anybody would bother to do it. Are there those among us gripped by a self-destructive desire to flamboyantly to perform theft in public rather than in the peace and anonymity of their own homes? This would be like defiantly parading to the Adult Books store rather than surfing for porn online.

Perhaps straight-up pirates who are looking to steal everything to sell it subway platforms and the like would benefit from a system in which they could just scan everything on the shelf, but it would seem like these people would have more reason to want not to be on camera in a retail outlet doing this.

It has been a long time since I browsed in a store looking for DVDs or music (one of the major quality-of-life improvements the internet has brought my life is that I never have to go to a record store again), so maybe I have lost touch with that level of impulsivity that would make bar-code-automated stealing seem like a good idea. I suppose it has a poetic flavor to it, using the retail machine's tools against the system itself. (And then I'm going to get a tattoo of a bar code on my arm, to make an important statement about conformity.) It's hard to remember what it was like to have to discover new culture by browsing in stores, though it was once my primary mode of cultural discovery. It still is, to some degree, in book stores and libraries. I'm not nostalgic for learning about music from the import section at Listening Booth -- but it is for that sort of nostalgia that this bar-code-reader

But it seems like most discoveries of new cultural products to want are made online -- a depressing fact is that we have our cultural world expanded not by wandering through the world having experiences and encountering unlikely or unexpected things, but through the systematic and highly rationalized, virtually automated mode of searching online. I could set a schedule by my cultural discoveries -- every week or so I spend an hour or so plowing through newsgroups and mp3 blogs to see if anything sounds interesting. I'm not sure if these count as "discoveries" any more. Instead, I'm merely calibrating my internal novelty-seeking metabolism, rendering the very idea of discovery impossible.

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