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AT LARGE: And nothing but . . . ?

AT LARGE: And nothing but . . . ?

I was less than entirely accurate with you in last week's column. I exercised a certain degree of rationing with the truth, and I have to confess my motives were pretty much entirely self-serving. I participated, actively and knowingly, in a cover-up. In short, I lied.

I said last week that readers had voluntarily engaged in a bandwidth-smorgasbord campaign to enlighten me as to the true nature of the Internet's vast content, and also to push my own usage up closer to the average. This much is true. In fact, I can now confirm that my usage was pushed up to 2.1 times the average -- way to go team!

However, at the end of the column, I said that I had deleted all the goodies I had been sent. I couched this in terms of ethics and morality -- much of the content I had been sent represented violations of various copyrights and was, as such, stolen property. In the real world, finding oneself in possession of stolen goods -- a car, a stereo, office supplies -- places one in a dilemma, since disposal of such goods is often not easy without self-incrimination. In the parallel universe of the Web, in which everything is ephemeral, it's simply a matter of hitting the big "delete" button in the upper right-hand corner and the evidence is gone.

Truthfully, though, I have to admit that my motivations in deleting the material I was sent were not ethical, nor were they moral (although legality was an issue with some of the video content). The truth is, I deleted the majority of the stuff because my hard drive isn't big enough to have kept it. My computer, nearing the end of its faithful if not entirely dependable life, has about eight gigabytes of hard-drive space in it. Believe it or not, I need most of that for actual work.

I signed off last week's column with an admonishment to "call me a wowser", but the people who responded to that call didn't accuse me of any such thing. Universally, they refused to admit that I would simply toss away such a trove of wonders. (While we're questioning each other's motives, by the way, I do realise that sending me a ton of material raises the "average" and thereby increases the usage cap for everyone on Optus -- not entirely without mathematical nous, you know.)"Is this what we've come to," I wondered to myself, "a world in which stealing is not only expected but encouraged? Where honesty is frowned upon and ethics mistrusted?"

And, sadly, I realised that it is. Because I had to admit to myself that, if my (imminent) new computer (a laptop with 30GB hard drive and a CD-RW) were already here, I would have kept much of what I had been sent.

No, I would not have kept the "Pammy and Tommy" video -- that was just ugly. However, there were other things. Some really rather useful software, for instance. As a tech journalist, I regularly have software on my machine well before its release to the public. However, applications valued at thousands of dollars, which would not normally be sent to journalists, represented a temptation.

There were also movies -- the not-yet-released DVD special edition of Star Wars Episode I and a sizable chunk of Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone , for instance -- that would have lent me some degree of prestige had I cared to share them.

The most telling thing, though, was that one reader, recalling the Beatles badges that used to adorn my photo on this column, sent me Sir Paul McCartney's new album Driving Rain in MP3 format. It's not out for another month, but I received it in a series of a dozen or so emails. And here is where I really have to come clean: I didn't delete it. I still have it. A few mouse clicks, and I could be listening to it as I write this.

I'm ashamed of myself, of course. I try to justify my actions to myself by saying that I will pay money for the album when it arrives, but meanwhile I'm enjoying it (most of it) free of charge. With each play, I'm stealing food out of his children's mouths.

I'm sorry. I hope that you won't take my deception as an indication that the media are not to be trusted. Don't allow my transgression to taint your view of the images you see nightly on your TV set, nor the words you read in your papers. Especially at this time when we are entering both an election and a war, I wouldn't want you to begin mistrusting what you're told. Really, it's all true.

Matthew JC. Powell might be having you on. Pull the other one on mjcp@optushome.com.au


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