‘I want to collaborate to develop more sustainable digital media’
Ben Wagner, new professor of Media, Technology and Society
With effect from 1 September, Ben Wagner will be professor of a new research focus area at Inholland University of Applied Sciences: Media, Technology and Society. He has also started a new role as the manager of the Sustainable Media Lab. Ben has spent years researching how technology and especially digital media influence our daily lives. ‘What does it mean if you become dependent on a few big tech companies? I want to open the eyes of students so that they can make conscious choices and work on more sustainable alternatives.’
As early as 2011, the American internet entrepreneur Marc Andreessen wrote in his essay ‘Why software is eating the world’, about the extent to which software companies help to define the economy. ‘Software and hardware now form part of everything we do’, says Ben. ‘The way we work, consume and interact with each other. We are at a time of great technological change and our experiences are changing as a result.’
Impact of digital media
The extent to which technology and digital media are interwoven with our daily lives raises questions. ‘What about the power of the big tech companies that determine the success of companies, simply by allowing or not allowing apps on their platforms? Or look at the elections for the Lower House, for example. How does advertising on digital media by political parties work? Who is involved, and how much does it cost? It’s easier to provide accountability for printed media, but this is more opaque in the case of digital media.’
We are at a time of great technological change and our experiences are changing as a result.
Ben has carried out research in various places in – and especially outside – the Netherlands into the impact of digital media and technology on society and how they can contribute to our human rights in a sustainable manner. Born in Austria, among other things Ben has set up the Center for Internet & Human Rights at the European University Viadrina, led the Sustainable Computing Lab at Vienna University of Economics and Business and was a member of the advisory body of ENISA, the European Union Agency for Cybersecurity.
Opening people’s eyes
‘My aim is to open people's eyes. What is the significance of digital media and technology in our daily reality? Don’t get me wrong, I’m not against it. Today's platforms provide wonderful new opportunities and possibilities. However, the question is whether they are socially and economically sustainable. Some platforms lead to undesirable working conditions or keep making a loss. Could we put together something better and more sustainable?’
Sustainable business models
According to Ben, examples of sustainable alternatives already exist, including in the Netherlands. ‘Take Fairphone, for example, a company that thinks consciously about the smartphone and has a business model with a positive impact on the working and living environment. I also want to open the eyes of students at Inholland. Rather than just using the standard tools, I want them to first have a keen understanding of their significance and then make well-informed choices.’
Sustainable Media Lab
For the students, the professionals of tomorrow, Media, Technology and Society goes even further. ‘As a community of researchers, we have been involved in research and debate for years. It is the task of the new generation to get to work and to achieve change. The demand for sustainable media is growing. We are moving towards a future with smaller, more diverse media companies and more specialised tools. A fantastic challenge that students can work on today. Through the Sustainable Media Lab, I want to give them the scope to shape this future, together with other researchers, experts and partners from the professional field.’
Students can identify opportunities for change
Ben is looking forward to the collaboration with students. ‘Where possible, I try to involve them in my research. Whether it's about policy rules for platforms, technological development or setting up business plans, my experience is that students bring something special: their enormous energy. They are not entangled in the slow process of research and discussion. They may immediately identify new opportunities and therefore be able to bring about powerful change.’