The Seven Deadly Sins of the Digital World

We are all, in the words of Agent Smith and Agent Jones, “only human.” This paradoxical quality, humanity, which powers our finest achievements and leads us to the pinnacle of artistic endeavour, is also that which feeds our less desirable traits, actions and moments of downright cruelty.

As with many religious themes, the seven deadly sins of lust, gluttony, avarice, sloth, wrath, envy and pride are rooted in earthly reality. So how do they map onto how we interact with technology, in our interactions or in terms of the services we create? Let’s take a look.

  • Lust is a simple one, manifested in what we now label ‘inappropriate content’. In times past we would harbour images of each other, driving ourselves insane with our own thoughts. The printed image, then the video, and now algorithm-driven fakery leave little to the imagination and feed the monster within.
  • Gluttony in the digital age maps onto the dreaded data deluge, as we find ourselves drawn into social sites through an urge to know more, to share, to play, to participate. In this age of plenty we time-waste, we procrastinate, we become unable, like a person whose desire to ingest has trumped any ability to resist.
  • Avarice, or greed, can be seen throughout our culture of increasing expectation, as we all want what we perceive others having. In this take-first, ask-later culture, startups discuss ‘data monetisation’ whilst quietly ignoring whose data it was anyway. And for some, it means cybercrime in all its highly lucrative, complex form.
  • Sloth boils down to plain stupidity or laziness, in each of us a belief that the bad things will happen to other people, a lack of effort to engage in simple things like doing backups. Sloth makes the bad guys’ job more straightforward, as they conjure new types of attack based on our inability to resist clicking a link.
  • Wrath used to emerge every now and then, but in the pressure cooker of social media it has become a beast to be fed, to its creators’ chagrin. Trolls act as acolytes, carefully triggering indignant energies to sustain the dark animal lurking within. Knee-jerk, righteous justification has replaced calm statesmanship, seen as a behavior to be rewarded and applauded rather than managed.
  • Pride is the sin to rule them all, the inability to admit when we are wrong. It is the social silence, the absence of a ‘dislike’ button, the quiet covering up of failure or shredding of the files of corruption. Unsure what the right thing is, but somehow sure we are on the right team, we become complicit in the resulting, silent inaction.

What a dark note to end upon (which harks to sadness, the eighth ‘sin’ in the original list). Our collective conscience can seem but dust, the immolated ashes of sacrifice to the new gods of the digital age. But this is part of a far greater process in which what we knew is torn apart, so it can emerge stronger. Principles that go back millennia are stronger than any wave of tooling, however insurmountably powerful and complex it may seem at the time.