The Discipline of Wants and Needs

Back in the day, when a buddy had a cool new cassette, and you were lucky enough to have a dual cassette deck, you made a copy for yourself to listen to. Years later, if you had two VCRs, you could copy movies you liked. My brother-in-law did this and had a huge library of copied movies.

But it was so rare to be able to make copies of anything. Back then, VCRs were expensive, and the fact my brother-in-law had two of them was rare to me. Although we were the only ones enjoying the copies we had, we never considered that people out there making money off their bootleg copies of music and movies by selling them to other people. But those were the people the FBI warnings at the beginning of the videos were talking about. We never considered what we did stealing. But technically, it was.

To me, stealing was something different. It was something I had a brief run in back when I collected comic books. Back then, I was a teenager, getting an allowance. I had limited means, thus had to be careful where I spent my money. One day, after already buying some comics, I stopped by another store and looked at their comics. There was some I wanted, but couldn’t afford them all. So, I tried to slip one comic into my bag. I was going to steal it!

The moment it dropped into my bag, I couldn’t believe what I had done. I had never shoplifted before ever! Yet here I was, about to do just that! I quickly grabbed the comic and put it back on the shelf. But it was too late. The shopkeeper saw me, took all my comics, embarrassed me, and told me to leave. I was shocked and upset. Thankfully, I was able to go back with someone, straighten things out, and get the comics I had paid for back.

That was my one and only brush with actual theft. Looking back on that day, and the days since, it made me realize that just because I want something, doesn’t mean I deserve it, or have earned it.

Which brings me downloading.

Today, probably millions of people download everything, comic books, music, movies, apps, and video games probably being the most popular. Since I’m not a huge video game freak, or have a lot of apps on my phone, I’ll stick to music and movies for the rest of this blog.

Although I’m not a fan of downloading music or movies, it is the new and popular way for people to acquire them. Whether it’s from the Apple Store, or even off the DVD or Blu-ray they buy, downloading movies and music isn’t going away.

Personally, when I see a lot of downloaded movies or music, all I see are files. They are easily acquired, and just as easily deleted. I grew up with these things having substance, a physical value, if you will. It may not make a lot of sense, especially to any younger folks reading this. But having a physical copy of an album, whether it be cassette, CD, or LP, or having the VHS tape, DVD or Blu-ray, has more meaning. Maybe its a symbol of the effort and hard work a lot of people put into it that make it more substantial than a file on a computer. I don’t know if that makes sense, but one thing that does to me is that if I can afford to buy it, if I spend money on it, then it also has worth.

Thinking back to when I tried to steal that comic book, maybe what changed my mind and made me clumsily try to put the stolen comic book back was the realization that I didn’t need it. Sure I wanted it, but I didn’t need it. Just because I wanted it didn’t mean I needed it. In the years that followed, that may have become my unknowing mantra for anything I wanted. If I couldn’t afford it, I didn’t need it. When I could afford it, I’d get it. Until that time, it would be something I wanted, not something I needed.

Fortunately, there have been times in my life when I could afford the things I wanted. But more often than not, there have been times when I couldn’t afford the things I wanted and only got the things I needed. These days, thankfully, I’m closer to the former than the latter.

Which brings me to illegal downloading.

In this day and age, it seems few people have any kind of discipline. If they want it, they get it. They don’t seem to care if they’ve earned it, or if they deserve it. Since they aren’t paying for it, it doesn’t matter.

If I had gotten away with stealing that comic book, I might have thought the same way. I wanted it, so I stole it. It didn’t matter if I earned it or deserved it.

I’m not here to preach to anyone reading this who illegally download everything they watch or listen to. Nothing I say will change your behaviour, especially if you’ve already justified it by thinking that big movie studios or music stars makes so much money that stealing their work won’t matter, or that you are supporting them by illegally sharing their work so others can discover them. However you justify stealing is up to you.

For me, it is more about the personality, the discipline and self-control that seems to be lacking in people. I say “people” because it isn’t just kids or teens illegally downloading content. It can be anyone. I also believe that it’s related to the same kind of mentality as the impatient drivers I see out there risking their lives and others just to gain a few minutes in traffic. Its also the self-involved people on their smartphones walking blindly into traffic or texting behind the wheel because they feel that that one text or that one comment on Facebook is vitally important. They don’t need to act like that, but they want to, so they do. They can probably afford to download content legally, or buy it at the store. But why pay for it, when they can get it illegally. They want it, so they get it. They don’t care about the legality of it. They just want it. They have no discipline or self-control to save or budget money to afford these things. They may not consciously think these things, they just do it.

But maybe I’m too old-school for such things. Maybe believing that things should be earned, that patience is a virtue, that the things we want are different from the things we need, is out of date.

If so… then I’ll remain happily out of date.

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