A traditional image of the seven deadly sins afflicting the human heart

An interesting recent joint project by The Guardian and the National Film Board of Canada attempted to divide up “digital deadly sins” according to the traditional categories: pride, lust, envy, gluttony, wrath, greed, and sloth 

While not all the sins fit very neatly into every category—”Wikipedia is my library” goes under sloth—some, like “illegal downloading” under greed, are spot-on.

Actually, I think that “Wikipedia is my library” should be the new definition of sloth.

If you know anything about Wikipedia, you will know that it flunks its own tests of reliability and sometimes promotes unverifiable nonsense. It’s a good place to start, just for search terms, if you are completely unfamiliar with a topic. But certainly don’t stay there. Now about the Seven Deadlies project:

Not only does the project categorize the various actions; it also allows users to vote on whether to “absolve” or “condemn” certain behaviors and say whether they do or don’t partake themselves. For instance, one of the “lust” actions is watching porn, which 82 percent of voters feel is acceptable behavior. Of those who absolved it, 82 percent also admitted to doing it, and 36 percent of those who condemned watching porn admitting to doing it themselves, too. Illegally downloading movies had a similar split: 72 percent absolve it, and 81 percent of those admit to doing it. Twenty-eight percent condemn illegally downloading movies, but 34 percent of those who condemn it still do it anyway.

The illegal downloading problem is complicated by the fact that paying for things on the Internet is a genuine hassle.

Time and again, I have wished I could say, “Can I just put ten dollars in your hand and buy this?” But no. I can’t. There is no hand.

I give them a bunch of information instead, including my charge card number and PIN.

Maybe I should be grateful they don’t also want me to send them pdfs of my passport, driver’s licence, and health insurance card. Maybe the Next Big Thing is that they will want that information too, in order to enable the transaction. To “improve security,” of course.

We need to work on solutions, but the solutions should address this problem. I favour, just as a discussion opener, a blind third-party account into which one deposits a level of funds to maintain a running balance. If I click BUY!, the information (perhaps a film, book, or program to download) is then sent to me. But the vendor cannot follow me up, let alone send me endless future promotions for various goods, services, or causes. The vendor would not actually know the source of the order.

I sense that the online marketing industry does not want this no-know, no-follow, no-Inbox junk approach because the ability to pester us afterward is valuable to them. But then they are in an awkward position when they complain about piracy, aren’t they?

Note: Confusion sometimes arises when people ask, “Why aren’t cruelty or bigotry counted as sins?” Well, cruelty and bigotry are sinful by definition. But these behaviours cannot logically arise from nowhere, without causes. The deadly sins (pride, envy, lust, etc.) have been thought to be the causes of the bad behaviour. And we can’t really change the behaviour without addressing the causes. 

See also: Why school Internet filters are important

Denyse O’Leary is a Canadian journalist, author, and blogger.

Denyse O’Leary is an author, journalist, and blogger who has mainly written popular science and social science. Fellow Canadian Marshall McLuhan’s description of electronic media as a global village...