De Generatiedenkers: Kim van Sparrentak

Each month, design agency Verveeld � Verward interviews a leading, future ancestor from the design field and beyond about generational thinking. Dorine Baars and Jonas Martens go into depth with their inspirations about substantive work, legacy and cross-generational design. This time they speak with Kim van Sparrentak, Member of the European Parliament.

Type Update
Published on 5 June 2024
De Generatiedenkers: Kim van Sparrentak
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We receive a call from an employee of team Sparrentak, she is 10 minutes later. “It was a longer cycling distance than I thought,” says Kim van Sparrentak when we open the door for her. She cycled to the Keilewerf, a creative hub in the Rotterdam port area, and home of designstudio Verveeld � Verward. We were surprised that our MEP, this driving force in Brussels, would visit us for this interview. That is not how things usually go. As it turns out, it isn’t that strange. We are fellow citizens! And just within cycling distance.

Kim van Sparrentak - credits: Verveeld & Verward
"Young people must be more involved in these debates. They live in that future. They must be listened to.”
— Kim van Sparrentak

It wasn’t always Rotterdam. The place that mainly raised her is Zeeland. According to Kim, this is where the activist and politician in her was awakened. She was in high school in Middelburg when the ‘1040 hour standard’ was introduced. The arrangement requires students to stay at school extra hours without actually receiving lessons, also referred to as ‘detention hours’. At the time, there were fierce protests from students against the 1040-hour standard and these detention hours. A young Kim was among the crowd. “And then the police came and beat high school students… So if you, as a young person, say that a policy is not working, you get beaten up. By an institution. That was really the moment for me. That injustice affected me so much.” Not long afterwards, Van Sparrentak was a present voice at the consultation evenings about a new nuclear power plant in Zeeland. Where she was surprised by the low representation of her generation compared to the pack of boomers, who mainly emphasized that a nuclear power plant would be good for employment. “They won’t even be there anymore once that thing is running. Young people must be more involved in these debates. They live in that future. They must be listened to.”

Kim van Sparrentak studied political science, future planet studies and urban environmental management. And now Kim van Sparrentak, 34 years old, is once again standing among the gray men in suits in the European Parliament. She laughs. “But now I have power! It’s crazy. I am being listened to.”

We will rock you 

Since her EU-entry at the age of 29, Van Sparrentak has already left significant marks in the legislative landscape. From her position on digitalization, she fights for human rights. “My biggest goal is to maintain humanity in digitalization,” says Van Sparrentak. “Do you know We will Rock You – the musical?” The link with human rights does not seem obvious from the get-go, but we must admit that we have never seen this musical. “This is my sci-fi dystopian future,” continues van Sparrentak. The story in this musical takes place in a world where the killerqueen uses algorithms to dictate what everyone will wear, eat and listen to: only digitally produced music. Until the youth stands up for ‘real’ music. “Ignore the ratings of this musical, what appeals to me about it is the mirror it holds up. It basically tells the story of one company that turned us into the perfect consumer. And we are heading towards such a reality. The best people work at Google and Meta, making their advertising engines even better. Their deares dream is to completely control you.”

“Personal recognition of the problem has been leading to overrule an intense lobby.”
— Kim van Sparrentak

Recent research shows that 17% of people would rather lose a little finger than never be able to use a smartphone again. Of young Dutch people between the ages of 18 and 24, 49% also claim that they would rather give up sex than their smartphone. Van Sparrentak sees that no self-discipline can compete with the tricks of large tech companies. In addition, the lobby is huge. She developed an initiative proposal on addictive design of online services, which calls for rules against addictive and manipulative design of apps and smartphones. The proposal was adopted by a broad majority. “The people who I expected would say ‘oh, regulatoryism’ and ‘that’s sad for the tech companies’ agreed! It is a subject that moves everyone, regardless of political affiliation. All the people I had to convince to agree saw their grandchildren complaining about screen time. Personal recognition of the problem has been leading to overrule an intense lobby.”

The tech companies don’t give up easily. Thanks to smart marketers, misleading words such as ‘the Cloud’ are spread around the world, making us all think that it is innocent air from which we extract our files. In reality, these are gigantic, energy-hungry data centers. Language is an ingenious tool to keep the consumer stupid. And more smart marketers, IT professionals and other specialists receive an offer of around 150,000 in starting salary in their mailbox every week. Van Sparrentak: “Those brilliant people could also commit themselves to the climate crisis or poverty. But of course you will never earn such money with that.” This view emphasizes the following that Van Sparrentak wants to stand up to: the revenue model of these tech companies. “We have to address this. No more monopolies. Competition Policy. A millionaire’s tax.”

And we should not underestimate her. The new AI Act is also her been her passion project. This law requires AI developers to be transparent about water and energy consumption, and it must be programmed to be inclusive. For example, a program like MidJourney should, by default, generate an honest reflection of society and offer openness about what energy the generation of such an image consumes – being, a full iPhone battery. The AI ​​world is full of smokescreens and the legislation for this is lagging behind the rapid pace of development. “I set the bar here!” Van Sparrentak gestured with her arm high up in the air. “It is important to realize what forms artificial intelligence may have taken within 50 years. We can’t know exactly. And yet, the legislation we make today must be resilient.”

Kim and Goliath

It is important that the younger generations have a voice in the European Parliament. Precisely because the policy and legislation that is made there has so much influence on the future of young Europeans. “I find it so frustrating that everyone here is so old.” The older you get, the more often you catch yourself thinking ‘I don’t understand the younger generation anymore’ and ‘yes, but we’ve been doing it this way for years.’ It is noticeable that Van Sparrentak has enormous energy to do things differently, from an understanding of her generation and from their intended place in the future. Van Sparrentak: “The fact that I am young also brings a strong drive to prove myself. I really give it my all.” And so, Van Sparrentak is not afraid to take on the tech giants of our time. She does not deny that she recognizes herself in the idea of ​​Kim and Goliath. The small but tactical newcomer, versus the beast of an institution, industry, lobbyists and shareholders. Kim proves that it is possible to navigate such a great force.

How? According to Van Sparrentak, the key is to emphasize the things we do want. We have to stop and cut down on a lot of things. Restricting addictive apps and smartphones has largely been successful because grandparents within the European Parliament long for a closer bond with their grandchildren, who have had a screen be inbetween them. In other words, the destruction of the things we have become accustomed to, has no chance without the desire for what comes in return. Kim cites another example: “The car. We could capitalize much more on the benefits of car-free streets, they are simply convincing: your children will not get asthma; you reduce the risk of cancer; less noise; it provides a safe place for your children to play and; more room for greening. But we don’t know what we’re missing! We could make things like that much more concrete.”

‘I want the internet to connect people again instead of dividing them. We need to take control over what happens online, take control out of the hands of companies and put it back into the hands of people.’


If Kim van Sparrentak is not addressing the European Parliament, there is a good chance that she has joined a Pride parade. And not just because she is gay herself. “My most emotional fight is the one for LGBTI rights.” says van Sparrentak. “Abuse here affect me much more than when something with big tech doesn’t work out. That lies in the future, this injustice is happening now.” Van Sparrentak talks about her involvement in parades in cities such as Belgrade and Skopje. “When I’m there, they ensure more security, that the police come and that the mobs with waving crosses can’t just come at us. The stories that come from such places are very compelling. It sometimes takes me days for me to recover from such an experience.”

Van Sparrentak also saw a sharp decline in the acceptance of LGBTI people among youngsters in the Netherlands. Five years ago, 41% of young people in Zeeland thought homosexuality was normal and this has since fallen to 25%. This trend holds up in all other parts of the Netherlands. Van Sparrentak: “Something has to change about this. First of all, by speaking out. But that won’t be enough. I want the internet to connect people again instead of dividing them. We need to take control over what happens online, take control out of the hands of companies and put it back into the hands of people. The revenue model based on disinformation and hate must stop: we must put an end to the polarizing recommendation algorithms.”

Zeeuws meisje

‘There is a Zeeuws Meisje, everything will be fine’ – is a extraction of text that you might remember from the youth program of Villa Achterwerk: Zeeuws Meisje. This girl lives in a version of the Netherlands where nothing grows anymore except one thing: pickles. Kim van Sparrentak mentions the program with a chuckle, but believes that it has shaped her ambitions. “I just want to make the world a better place! I just didn’t know that it would be from politics, I never thought I could be myself there. It was very important for me to have examples.” And so, a fictional youth heroine made way for women such as biologist and writer Rachel Carson, former Prime Minister of New Zealand Jacinda Ardern, and in fact all Finnish women in politics.

“Full of love, man bends over the cradle of his child… and at the same time allows his food to be poisoned. How long?”

The quote above is from the book ‘Silent Spring’ (1962) by Rachel Carson. She describes a world where the birds no longer sing. The book raised the alarm about the dangers of pesticides and led to revolutionary changes in environmental laws, including the ban on DDT. Van Sparrentak directly refers to Carson when we ask who she thinks is a examplatory ancestor. “Oh! And mycelium! I think people who do research into that are really great.” For those unfamiliar, mycelium is a network of fungi and an emerging bio-building material. It is probably not entirely coincidental that mycelium also manages to break down the most toxic substances, and in that sense it is very comparable to Rachel Carson. If mycelium coffins had existed at the time of Carson’s death, that would undoubtedly have been her preference. “If things go south, I want to go in there,” says Van Sparrentak resolutely. However, she seems far ahead of her time in this regard, she is far from finished here.

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