Not every acronym is filled with TLC
FROM DVDs to MP3s to BLTs with extra B, Digital Slobs have had a long and storied love affair with acronyms.
For the instant-messaging masses, they've become the sole method of communication. For example, ROTFLOL ILICISCOMK means "Rolling on the floor, laughing out loud. I laughed, I cried, I spat Coke on my keyboard."
I've seen this system work flawlessly. On the other hand, I've also seen an East Coast doctoral student carry on an extended chat about U.S. monetary policy with a mischievous cat that was grooming itself on top of a keyboard with the caps lock on.
But not only do they save wear and tear on our fingers while pecking away on the Web, acronyms often represent some cool new tool or service that Slobs are sure to grow utterly dependent upon.
From LPs to URLs, we were having quite a run -- and there seemed no end in sight. But suddenly, a malevolent abbreviation appeared, without so much as a polite FYI.
Digital Rights Management.
You may have already heard of it. Certainly, no one in the media game has watched a PowerPoint presentation that didn't have least 10 slides devoted to it since roughly 2003.
Basically, DRM wraps software around your digital property (music, movies, etc.) that limits what you can do with it -- after you buy it. A DRM might allow you to duplicate a file only a fixed number of times, or onto only one kind of device. Or it might just erase it one day altogether.
Imagine you walked into a BMW dealership with two suitcases filled with $20 bills and bought a 650i Convertible (OK, make that four suitcases). Theoretically, you could drive it off the lot and right into the ocean, if you so pleased. I would never speak to you again, but you would be within your rights.
But let's say you bought a "DRM-BMW" instead. After the dealer put your four suitcases on his side of the desk, he would say, "Now, you can't drive it more than 10 miles a day, you can't put more than one passenger in it at a time, and after 5,000 ignitions, we're going to repossess it."
As American Dreams go, sinking a luxury automobile in sea water is starting to sound like the better option. Of course, if you could rip exact replicas of your new car on a computer and hand them out to all your friends on MySpace, then BMW execs would no doubt be looking to add a few slides to their PowerPoint presentations as well.
That said, it's one thing to lease with an option to buy, quite another to buy with an obligation to lease.
This issue was made even more radioactive by Sony's recent "rootkit" debacle, the Three Mile Island of DRM. Last year, Sony began selling CDs with an invisible code designed to restrict copying on Windows computers. But that same code also made PCs vulnerable to hackers on the Net. According to Wired.com, the backlash caused Sony to pull CDs off store shelves.
Adding inefficiency to injury, CNET.com reported earlier this month that all these bureaucratic DRM hoops that non-pirated zeroes and ones have to jump through also suck the battery life out of media devices extra fast.
So clearly, the acronym honeymoon is over. It's time to read the fine print.
Especially the words in all caps.