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Techsploitation

Her Name is Rio

By Annalee Newitz

SO I HAD A Diamond Rio with a modest amount of memory, and big plans for it. Having written incessantly about the beauty of getting free crap and stolen crap online, I was all set to go out Napsterizing and MyMP3.comming. I wanted free MP3 tracks, and I wanted them yesterday. So I plugged the two most-searched terms on the Web into Google.com (quick aside: I currently worship Google): "free MP3."

Money is so meaningless in the computer industry that I managed to inherit Jason's Diamond Rio MP3 player after every employee at his company got one for free. When he asked me what I wanted for my birthday, I said, "An MP3 player," and he said, "Oh, that's nothing. I got one for free the other day. You want it?" Well, duh, of course I wanted it.

After roaming around various sites for about two hours, all I got were two tracks off The Ninth Gate soundtrack (yes, I like soundtracks, so this wasn't totally random). Alright, so I suck ass. I'm not a "music person," and I'm certainly not an online music person. My computer at work also sucks ass--the sound card is so lame that MP3s can't even play on it. I can download to it, then download to my player, though.

So basically what I'm complaining about here is that all the media hype about illegal MP3s--and I'll admit that I'm responsible for some of it--is completely exaggerated. It's actually pretty damn hard to get free (illegal) MP3s, unless you know what you're doing. As a member of the media, I want to formally apologize for over-hyping this trend. And if somebody out there will please sent me some URLs for free MP3s, or FTP sites where I can download them, I promise I'll never write about "the MP3 phenomenon" again.

I'm so glad I got that off my chest.

I was at a party last weekend and in the midst of a conversation about the Internet industry I discovered two things. One, the people working psychotic, 24-hour shifts in the startup offices down the street from me are from fellow party-goer Phil's company Troba ("It's abort spelled backwards!" he noted helpfully). This formed the basis for one of those "life passage" moments, like when you realize that all your friends are married and having kids and buying SUVs. But most of my friends aren't doing the family thing (thankfully); instead, they're becoming startup CEOs. Gosh, remember when we were all just web monkeys and coders and graduate students? Now we're CEOs and managers and have RSI so we couldn't code even if we wanted to.

The other thing I discovered is that we've completely run out of i-things and e-things and have now moved into m-things. If you think about it even for a few seconds, you'll know what I mean. There was i-biz (Internet), then e-biz (electronic), and this week we have m-biz (mobile). I can't wait for f-biz, which I think should probably become an Unamerican Activities (www.unamericanactivites.com) slogan.

And in case you were wondering whether I had any other mental debris to dump, I'm having another MP3-related trauma that I need to process. It has to do with Winamp, a wonderful free MP3 player (although not for Mac--sigh). When you download Winamp from winamp.com, you have the option to get "skins." These are mostly homegrown covers that make the Winamp control panels look like the technology from Star Wars or (more depressingly) lunchboxes with Disney characters or some other piece of entertainment propaganda.

This took me back a thousand years to seventh grade, when I was oppressed by fashion and all the girls at my school had these stupid preppie purses with removable cloth covers. You could unbutton the cover, then replace it with another one that matched your Izod T-shirt. Girls had thousands of these covers, and I recollect several dark days in which I felt menaced by the need to change my purse cover.

My question is: why this obsession with skins all of a sudden? Winamp isn't the only application for which they're available. I wonder if this has something to do with our current global obsession with race and ethnicity, in which people feel the need to give everything--including technology--a racial heritage, a "skin" that marks it. Finally, I'm just not sure that getting to change skins using a piece of software will ever make me think of anything but being oppressed.


Annalee Newitz is a surly media nerd who ended up buying a bunch of new CDs from Amazon instead of getting them for free.

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From the May 31- June 7, 2000 issue of Metro Santa Cruz.

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