What are the consequences of the digitalisation of everything?

This is the big question that concerns students who choose the minor Design for Digital Society. Technology offers us countless possibilities, but it does come with a price. Even though it is not always clear how and what we have to pay for technological advances. Privacy? No longer knowing what is true and what not? Each student of the Minor is developing a tool that helps us understand.
What are the consequences of the digitalisation of everything?

The tool leaves many roads open for students, says Dimme van der Hout. ‘They can study every field or topic where technology has a social impact, such as healthcare or the global climate’. Being able to program is handy, but certainly not required, he emphasises. ‘Today you can create lots of things without programming experience. But you should not shy away from a bit of technology’.

Conscious instead of critical

Van der Hout does not want to be just critical about the digital society. ‘I especially want to address awareness about developments. Because being aware enables you to make a conscious choice. Currently, many things just happen to us. The use of our personal data, for example.’

Such topics are extremely fascinating when we do explore them, Van der Hout argues. The examples are many. A visual artist making a statement by creating a photo by using a thousand smaller pictures of babies, posted on social media by their parents. ‘This angered the parents of course, but they were the ones who put them online. Or take the social credit system in China, that records literally everything about Chinese citizens and comes with consequences as well. ‘Drove through a red light for the second time? Then you are no longer able to get a car insurance.’

Van der Hout wants the minor to start with offering knowledge, to let students gradually go their way from there. Students start by making a PowerPoint presentation about a problem for which they have an interesting solution. Secondly, they do this again as a group. Halfway through, you start working on your own project, that will eventually result in the tool. ‘The second term is kicked off with inspirational talks from professionals outside HKU’, Van der Hout explains. ‘The classes or modules in the second period are adjusted to the student’s project: what does it require?’

On the edge

Van der Hout hopes to see the development of tools that are ‘on the edge’. ‘They should make people think. We are facing so many ethical questions in this digital era. Just think of all the interesting things you can do with that.’