CMN 170v Digital Technology and Social Change

In this online class we create a conceptual understanding of how digital technologies transform our lives, through social media, mobile communication, global connectivity, big data, and artificial intelligence. We talk about how the digital age changes business, health, democracy, global governance, poverty, family relations, dating, and last but not least: education! …and we walk the talk…


Martin Hilbert, Ph.D.


This is an online class. Assignments are weekly. Otherwise students go at their own pace, watching lectures and doing interactive online exercises. The mid-term and final exam can be taken either face-to-face on UCD campus, or at an online proctoring service, from your computer, anywhere inside or outside the U.S..

The two main concepts of the course are social change and technological change by digital means. Information and Communication Technology (ICT) is not only an essential building block of a society, but currently also the driving force behind social development. Our generation has the luck to live through — and the responsibility to shape — an era in which mediated information and communication have become the catalysts of human progress. We will deepen our understanding on how social and technological revolutions go hand in hand.

The course guides students in contemplating what technology actually is and how it evolves. This leads to the question how technological progress relates to human development. Armed with the powerful conceptual frameworks of innovation theory and social evolution, students in the class explore what happens when information and communication is digitalized. Digitalization comes with certain characteristics of individual and collective behavior, incentives, and forms of organization. These characteristics can trigger political revolutions; create unprecedented richness as well as new dimensions of poverty; redefine our understanding of friendships, culture and entertainment; transform education, health care and business; and lead to visions of future scenarios of global democracy and informational dictatorship.

In this study, a global perspective is essential. While we live in a global "information society," we all too often forget that half the members of this global society live with less than US $75 per month (US $2.50 per day). Digital technology is the most powerful and also the most tangible tool we have available to exploit the ensuing opportunities for social change. This course tackles the big picture of the digital age; we are not afraid of asking the big questions that arise from the incredibly complex dynamic of ongoing digitalization — one that all of us already live in day by day.

By the end of the course you will:

•   Be able to frame personal experiences and global trends of the digital age with the formal theoretical frameworks of social and technological change;

•   Have had plenty of opportunity to apply the learned concepts to real-world examples of your own choice, enabling you to articulate complex issues eloquently and in a way that is meaningful to you;

•   Have a more structured understanding about digitalization, and its strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and imminent threats;

•   Develop a basic appreciation of the complexities of human development, as well as the challenges that arise when intervening in social evolution (through public policy and private strategies), especially during times of fast-paced change;

•   Gain insights into how authorities from companies and governments currently manage disruptive and problematic dynamics of digitally driven social change.

All lectures and assignments for this course are online and can be taken at your own pace. The mid-term and final exams can be taken in person at UC Davis, or through on online proctoring service (ProctorU), from your personal computer, anywhere in the world or the country.