Decreasing data demand – materialising online behaviour for a sustainable digital future

Technical University of DelftNetherlands
2023 People’s Choice Award
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Concept / Student


Graduate student: Mathijs Bodelier Project chair: Lise Magnier Project mentor: Maria Luce Lupetti Company mentor: Jeroen Cox


What would happen if our routers could speak? Could this provide us a look into the unknown world of the internet and all its dark secrets? In this project together with KPN an attempt is made to materialize the digital world in a way that allows us humans to become aware of our digital habits and take up an active role in shaping digital interactions.

By visualizing data usage and it’s social impacts, this interactive router and accompanying app aim to establish a discourse about our online behaviour so we may get a better understanding of our digital footprint. With colors flowing into an interactive painting, the online behaviour of household members is displayed within a social frame of reference. This way our digital counterparts are taken out of the dark and into the light where we can start a critical debate on how our digital civilization should look like.

Project Description

In a matter of decades, information technologies have become omni-present in the lives of more than a billion people. Whilst holding many promises for more efficient and therefore seemingly more sustainable practices, this fast-growing industry is expanding its footprint rapidly. Exponential advancements in hardware and software are kept in check by a quickly rising demand for data-driven products and services. Along with that, the increased usage is also taking its toll on other values such as personal wellbeing, privacy and interpersonal relationships. With a climate and energy crisis on our hands, now is the time to ask ourselves whether this superfluous consumption of data is really benefitting our society. By investigating the workings of the physical network and the interaction between humans and digital products, an inquiry is made into changing the consumption behaviour of KPN customers in favour of the values that they uphold.

First, I aimed to understand the current use of digital products and services around the household of KPN’s internet users by interviewing them and diving into the complex network that resides behind the plug in the wall. Resulting was a set of underlying motives to current behaviour as well as a range of conflicts that arose from it, trapped in a self-reinforcing system where our society is put under enormous stress by the surge for more data. Most importantly I saw how many of KPN’s customers seemed deterministic about their digital futures and had already accepted the negative impacts that excessive consumption patterns had on their lives.

With the various prototypes and designs that I created throughout this project I aimed to mold ‘internet use’ into something tangible and graspable for the everyday user so that they may exert influence over it. Limiting addictive apps, overseeing the usage of devices and discussing the usage with peers can all empower them to move towards a more responsible interaction with the digital world.

In the evaluations with consumers the potential of a more moderate use scenario became evident providing a promising foundation for KPN to continue exploring how they might facilitate their customers in this effort. Next to that, this speculative design also raises many questions that still need to be answered in order for all parties acting in this system to start moving towards a sustainable digital future and take responsibility for the societal impact that they have. Policy makers, businesses and industries can all implement interventions when the focus shifts from ‘bigger better faster’ to sufficiency. As a last and main contribution the project highlights the importance of this topic by shedding light on ‘dark’ use patterns and encourages conversation in a playful way.


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