Dallas, TX –
It started innocently enough. My daughter needed the karaoke version of a song she wanted to sing in her school's pop show. And she needed it fast, like tomorrow morning.
Fine, I said, I'll get it from Apple's iTunes music store, which has almost everything. But to my surprise, iTunes didn't have the karaoke version of this song, even though it was a big hit just a couple of years ago. I then called a few local stores that sell karaoke music, but nobody had it. Sorry, I was told; that track was never released in America.
Well, just a few years ago that would have been the end of it. But those words -"never released in America" - gave me an idea. After all, in this brave new world of seamless global commerce, what do national boundaries mean, anyway?
Now, before we go further, I know some of you are wondering why I didn't go to one of the illegal downloading sites and grab the song there. Hey, I'm trying to set a good example here, and besides, I'd already forbidden my daughter to dabble in these virus-infested sites. I didn't want to seem like a total hypocrite.
So, back to the Internet, where I started Googling the song's name and the word "karaoke." And sure enough, two or three searches later, I found the tune offered from something called Karaokeversion.com, owned by something called Recisio. So, I wondered, what is Recisio? A little more clicking and snooping revealed that the domain name was registered to some guy in a French city not far from Normandy. And he was willing to let me have the much-needed song for just $1.99.
The price was fine and the website certainly looked legitimate, but I hesitated to plug in my credit card numbers. For all I knew, the site could be a front for Russian cybergangsters who would quickly sell my numbers and perhaps my identity to narcoterrorists lurking somewhere in Argentina. I had my credit card numbers stolen last year and it was a big mess, so I sure didn't want to run that risk again. I've bought stuff from all over the world through Amazon and eBay, but those were companies I knew and trusted. This was a leap in the dark.
So, seeking more certainly, I went to the site's billing page and learned that their finances were handled by a European bank named CIC. More web-crawling showed me that CIC was a highly prestigious, old-line institution with roots going back to the time of Napoleon III. Or at least that was the story they were putting out.
Then I spotted the PayPal logo on the karaoke website. PayPal, you may know, offers a great way of transferring money without potential bad guys seeing your credit card numbers, That would have solved all my problems, except I had emptied my Paypal account a few weeks earlier making some purchases on eBay, and it would take three or four days to transfer more money from my own bank. That was too long.
At this point I was wishing I had never heard of the Internet, or Tim Berners-Lee, or Google, or electricity, for that matter. But it was decision time. I had to decide just how much faith I had in the interconnected economy. After much gulping and consulting with my wife, who made it clear she was behind me 100 percent unless something went wrong, I decided to go for it.
My cursor hovered over the payment rectangle for a few more seconds and then...voila. The song began downloading. At least that much was legitimate. Then, seconds later, I got a nice email thanking me, in English, for my purchase. I felt even better the next day when I called MasterCard and found that our financial identity had not been vaporized.
When I told my daughter this story, she just shrugged and said, "cool," as if dodging cyberswindlers and checking out domain names and sniffing around in European bank records is the most common thing in the world. And if you don't even remember a time before the Internet, I guess it is.
Chris Tucker is a Dallas-based writer and literary consultant.
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