The virus underground

Monday, 9 February 2004, 8:51 PM EST

Mario stubs out his cigarette and sits down at the desk in his bedroom. He pops into his laptop the CD of Iron Maiden's ''Number of the Beast,'' his latest favorite album. ''I really like it,'' he says. ''My girlfriend bought it for me.'' He gestures to the 15-year-old girl with straight dark hair lounging on his neatly made bed, and she throws back a shy smile. Mario, 16, is a secondary-school student in a small town in the foothills of southern Austria. (He didn't want me to use his last name.) His shiny shoulder-length hair covers half his face and his sleepy green eyes, making him look like a very young, languid Mick Jagger. On his wall he has an enormous poster of Anna Kournikova -- which, he admits sheepishly, his girlfriend is not thrilled about. Downstairs, his mother is cleaning up after dinner. She isn't thrilled these days, either. But what bothers her isn't Mario's poster. It's his hobby.

By Clive Thompson at NYT

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