Sheer Madness

Earlier this week, I received a work e-mail from a higher-up at my magazine with the words “March Madness” in the subject line. Because this was not from the co-worker in charge of the office pool and because of the job title of the sender, I was pretty sure that I knew what this e-mail would be about: “Please don’t gamble or partake in activities that support gambling while at work.”

If only. Because despite the fact that I had already submitted 25 dollars in cash for an office pool, I could have lived with being scolded for gambling or even told that my money would be collected and used to buy a new copy machine. But the e-mail was more along these lines: “Please don’t watch streaming video of games on your work computer. We have to pay for our bandwidth and it slows the network down for everyone else.”

Outrage. Pure, vengeful outrage racing through my bloodstream. “How?” I thought. “They can’t…” “This is my com-“. Aha. I realized I had fallen into a dangerous modern trapping. Although my employer had provided me with all of the hardware and some of the software that I was using, the fact that I had been the only one who operated the machine on a daily basis gave me a false sense of ownership, one that seems to mirror many people’s feelings about the information they share with the world. While a false sense of information ownership is nothing new–think of all the musicians from the last century who believed they would get a cut of royalty money only to find out that the record label is the sole proprietor of a piece–what makes this modern naivete so much more prevalent is the fact that the tools used to send forth this information, unlike a record studio, are generally in front of us every day.

My inability to use my office computer for streaming video at first seemed like a Fascist prohibition of information flow. Before long, though, I realized it was much simpler. It was a reminder that the tools used for transmitting this information can sometimes be legally and appropriately snatched right out from under us.


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