Reviewed October 2014
Nickoal Eichmann, Assistant Professor, History Research Librarian
Mitchell Memorial Library, Mississippi State University
From posting selfies daily on Facebook, spending an entire day on YouTube, to downloading terabytes of movies, the advent of the Internet and ubiquity of social media have altered what we define as acceptable social behavior. Built from a collaborative project between the Guardian newspaper and the National Film Board of Canada, Seven Digital Deadly Sins is an interactive documentary that delves into the ways in which the digital world has reshaped moral attitudes towards fellow humans, ourselves, and reality itself. Drawing from Western classifications of idolatry-of-self, the site creators expand the traditional applications of the seven deadly sins of Judeo-Christian belief systems, to reflect experiences of sin in our digital lives.
Visitors to Seven Digital Deadly Sins are first presented with the video, "Seven Digital Deadly Sins: An Interactive Exploration of Ourselves," piquing curiosity through smart and funny introductions to each of the sins. Following the video, viewers are presented with an interactive, constellation-like interface mapping "Envy," "Pride," "Wrath," "Lust," "Gluttony," "Sloth," and "Greed." Here, users begin to navigate the site and interact with it. Clicking an individual sin isolates a network of related content, which, like the overall site itself, begins with a short video clip specific to that sin. In addition to the video, each section includes two or three true, short stories – or admissions of guilt – that exemplify that digital sin.
"Lust," for example, includes a video featuring British comedian Josie Long who discusses her "thirst" to interact on Twitter rather than with her flesh-and-blood partner. The included short stories further illustrate lust as digital sin: a woman shares her experience with a member of an extramarital dating site; a photographer enjoys spending time on Fetlife ("Facebook for the fetish crowd"); and a computer hacker feels empowered by electronically stealing cars. These short stories are complemented with facts that provide context to the practices described, such as, "forty-one percent of marriages have a spouse who admits to infidelity."
Finally, each sin includes a couple of questions for visitors, asking them to consider whether these sinful actions are absolvable or condemnable, and whether the visitors themselves commit these sins. This is the most fascinating aspect of the Seven Digital Deadly Sins, in that visitors can compare their judgments and actions to others. One is forced to consider for example, "if sixty-percent of visitors absolve others with secret email accounts, and forty-percent of those people admit to having one, is this then socially and morally acceptable?" As the site's creators contend, to not question this is itself a sin.
The interface and layout of Seven Digital Deadly Sins is beautifully produced: clean, modern, and without complicated navigational hierarchies. Regardless of how one feels personally about any of these sins, the writing is quick-witted and engaging. Finally, the data graphics are visually appealing, allowing users to easily understand the meaning of the statistics. While the site works well in modern browsers and is mostly responsive, the site is not device agnostic.
Whether social scientists or the general public, those interested in the effects of social media on the personal and societal level will appreciate this highly conceived, creative, interactive site. Reminiscent of recent studies arguing that social media allows people to be shamelessly self-promotional and anti-social, the Seven Digital Deadly Sins expands on our modern conceptions of acceptable and unacceptable behaviorin light of the information revolution, and the experience helps to remind visitors of the subjectivity of absolution and condemnation of digital and non-digital sins.