The other day, as I found myself browsing Instagram images of food that can only be described as Frankenstein creations of fried goods, I suddenly thought to myself; ‘Wow. I would never eat this in real life’. Never would I feel compelled to order, let alone eat, a sandwich made with hashbrowns instead of bread. And if this is something I’m not willing to consume in the physical world, why do I crave, create and consume these kinds of food extremes in digital?
If we take that wonderful adage that ‘Everything I like is illegal, immoral or fattening’, it seems that our digital society has finally found a way to engage with these (or slightly modernized) guilty pleasures, without any of the real-world repercussions. We consume them, but at a spectator (not an active) level. In short, we’ve become an audience that seeks to indulge in online content depicting things that we cannot, should not or would not, participate with in the real world. And so with that in mind, behold the seven deadly sins of content consumption...
1. Digital gluttony: Things I cannot, or should not, consume in the physical world -
Digital gluttony drives people to indulge in the tangible things that they want (unhealthy food, or a beautiful home that’s out of their budget) without the repercussions of physical restrictions like health, vanity or finances. Think #foodporn, #propertyporn, #clothesporn etc.
2. Porno-violence: Spectating to satiate my animalistic instincts around things I cannot, or should not, do -
Literary journalist Tom Wolfe suggests that an audience is instantly gratified by potential exposure to elements relating to sex or violence. These can be mild (playing Grand Theft Auto), or more sinister (pornographic or violent content that implies or portrays sex or death).
3. Surrealism: Things I would never have thought of, or had the chance to do -
Surrealism relates to things we would never have the opportunity to do, or think to engage with, in the physical world. These relate more to our curiosity around the fantastical, and how we seek bizarre and whimsical new experiences.
4. Envy: Coveting things I can’t, or don’t, have -
Envy is an obvious one; it’s why we see women creeping on ‘girl crushes’; wishing they had their looks or lifestyles. It’s about coveting what others have, and can either present itself as envy or motivation. Think of posts that include the hashtag #goals.
5. Life hacking: Things to make my life easier -
We crave content that will help us cut corners in order to achieve our goals. And as our iPhones become our life coaches, we increasingly rely on third-party sites to help us manage our lives and increase output and productivity without increasing our effort.
6. Pathos: Things that evoke a strong emotional response that we can’t experience in our day-to-day lives -
Though we’re expected to control our emotions in society, we occasionally seek to indulge in them too. As such, we voyeuristically place ourselves in the position of being devastated, proud, terrified etc., on a scale that’s unrealistic in day-to-day life.
7. Fantastical and grotesque: Things I should not see -
This is the darker side of surrealism. These are things we don’t think we want to see, but once confronted with them, our curiosity wills us to keep clicking. This category represents a disregard for societal codes, norms and values beyond that of porno-violence. This is the ‘despite ourselves’ category; we feel compelled to explore this unknown.
So what can brands take from these deadly sins? Well, sometimes we need to take advice from the schools of psychology and sociology when it comes to creating content for our audiences. Only in this way will we compete with unbranded content consumption and allow people to experience the things they never, or rarely, will in the physical. We all have our internalised desires that we want to experience vicariously, so as to feel involved in them (yet while never compromising on our psychological or physical state). This form of vicarious living seems to be the reason why everything I see in my newsfeed relates to things that in the real world would be considered illegal, immoral or just downright fattening.