I have a confession, but first some background information. Computers have played a large role in my life. My parents purchased our first PC when I was eight years old, and I immediately latched on. My curiosity spiked and I wanted to learn everything I could about them. I broke them and sometimes learned to fix them, but usually my dad fixed the problem after hours on the phone with tech support. Luckily, this was before everything was outsourced, or it probably still would not be fixed. My knowledge grew, and I eventually became known in my rural West Virginia town as the “computer guy”. I fixed problems at my high school, for friends, family and many other people whom I did not even know. I used my skills to make a little extra money and everyone was happy.
Then broadband became available. Incidentally, this happened at almost the same time Napster grew to dominance around the nation’s college campuses. I jumped into the world of P2P (peer-to-peer) file sharing and everything changed. I learned how to find practically anything in an electronic format. From games to music, operating systems to applications, the world was at my fingertips. My knowledge and expertise increased and I began a Computer Science degree at Virginia Tech. As I continued to learn, I found more and more ways to get around “the system”, whatever it may have been.
However, curiosity also has a downside if not held in check by an ethical code. Raised as a Christian from early childhood, I would never steal from someone nor would I go to a strip club or partake other adult entertainment venues, but when removed from the physical world these ethical mandates held less power over me. I justified my sins in every possible way. It’s not stealing without physical theft. Everyone is doing it. The corporate conglomerates are already wealthy and will not miss my small amount. The divide between ethics in the physical world and ethics in the electronic world widened to enormous size. I was addicted to pornography, addicted to downloading, and addicted to the rush of internet exploration in whatever new form I could learn about. The hacker mentality of curiosity and thirst for knowledge drove many of my actions. For the Heroes fans out there, I have Sylar’s disease. I need to collect things as I learn about how and why they function.
With this knowledge left unchecked, I literally downloaded terabytes of material. I never equated downloading with stealing. Never thought twice about large corporate lawsuits. They were the evil empire stealing money from the artists. I supported the artist buy purchasing T-shirts at their concerts, not by giving them a few pennies from a CD sale. That is, except for the hundreds, possibly thousands of artists I had downloaded and never bought a thing from them. I did not pay for my operating system. I downloaded it just as I downloaded my programs, DVDs, TV shows, etcetera, etcetera.
However, the Lord slowly started shifting my mentality in the Spring of 2007. While attending Focus on the Family Institute two events struck me. The first was a strengths test we took to analyze our personalities and determine our natural abilities. The test describes input, my number one strength, like this:
You are inquisitive. You collect things. You might collect information-words, facts, books, and quotations-or you might collect tangible objects such as butterflies, baseball cards, porcelain dolls, or sepia photographs. Whatever you collect, you collect it because it interests you. And yours is the kind of mind that finds so many things interesting. The world is exciting precisely because of its infinite variety and complexity…. With all those possible uses in mind, you really don’t feel comfortable throwing anything away. So you keep acquiring and compiling and filing stuff away.
Blown away by this description, I immediately linked input to my downloading habit. Following the pattern of this strength without even knowing it, I had collected thousands of gigabytes of data in the form of lectures, books, videos, movies, music, programs, et al. The second came from a professor. He asked if we had ever illegally downloaded anything and our position on the subject. He used the information strictly for his own purposes; never brow-beating or lashing out at us for our sins. This stuck in my mind. Remembering it occasionally over these past two years, I have come to see more and more of the importance of personal integrity and righteousness. Which brings us to the present.
Running a blog entitled Christian Ethos, I have a responsibility to God, myself, and the world, to live in accordance with what is right. Stealing electronic content does not fall into that category. I am accountable for everything I do both publicly and privately. So this night I am throwing out my burned DVD collection and deleting my illegally gained music and television shows. Then this weekend I will be formatting my computer and installing all legitimate software. As I hinted at in a comment on an old post, If this nation is to survive and maintain the freedoms it was built upon we must regain a sense of right and wrong. A leader must rise up and challenge us back to the heart of what it means to live in a Republic. The health of which cannot be separated from the religion and morality of its citizens. Our sins must be confessed and our wrongs righted.