WeWashing is a new term that refers to the abuse of words like “sharing” and “community.” Use #WeWashing to identify and critique this abuse.

Whitewash, Greenwash, WeWash

I am usually a satisfied user of services like AirBnb and Uber, even if I don’t 100% agree with all of their corporate policies and practices. But I cringe every time I hear these companies, and others like it, described as part of the “Sharing Economy.”

New technologies can extend the meaning of words, such as “friend” in a post-Facebook world. But for the sake of clarity, new social phenomena also require us to coin new terms for them. Given the expanding use and abuse of terms like “community” and “sharing,” I would like to propose a new term: WeWashing.

Based on terms like whitewashing and greenwashing, WeWashing is when corporations, brands, and other groups use the language of “sharing” and “community” to describe what are essentially capitalist commercial transactions.

Whitewash: when organizations cover up or gloss over their misdeeds, scandals, or negative facts about them.

Greenwash: when organizations use “green” marketing or public relations techniques to communicate an environmentally-friendly image that contrast with the reality of their products, policies, or practices.

WeWash: when organizations refer to renting and selling services as “sharing” and/or use terms like “community” in misleading ways.

We Are Greater Than Our Consumer Selves

In his recent speech at the 50th anniversary of the Selma to Montgomery marches, President Obama points out:

[T]he single-most powerful word in our democracy is the word “We.” “We The People.” “We Shall Overcome.” “Yes We Can.” That word is owned by no one. It belongs to everyone.

Words like “we,” “sharing” and “community” may be common, but they are also meaningful. These words are reminders that we are part of something greater than ourselves. As community members and citizens, we share common bonds and common interests. We are more than consumers. We interact in ways that go beyond commercial transactions.

“We the people.”

Not “We the Monarch.”

Not “We the corporation.”

Not even “We the consumers.”

Our “we” is the “we” of true community, of collaboration, and the shared commons. It is not the “we” of royal or corporate decree.

Our shared language is itself a form of cultural commons that is owned by no one and belongs to everyone. As such, so-called “sharing economy” companies are free to use these words as they like, but we are also free to use them in ways that work for us. We can create our own forms of meaning. We can mold and adapt the language to coin terms like WeWashing.

Now that we have a word for this phenomenon that affects our reality, we can draw attention to it. We can engage in dialog about the pros and cons of “micro entrepreneurship” and the so-called “sharing economy. We can differentiate the “renting economy” from true sharing.

The Rectification of Names

The Rectification of Names (正名) is a doctrine in Confucian philosophy that argues that, for the good of society, we need to call things by their correct and proper names. We need to call a spade a spade. If we can name and identify a problematic phenomenon, we can call it out more easily and take actions to deconstruct it.

For example, by calling discrimination “discrimination,” we are able to take actions to combat it. By coining the term, “environmentalism,” we were able to unite different causes such as air pollution, water contamination, and animal habitat preservation under the umbrella of a single movement.

By calling out incidents of WeWashing, we can preserve the meaning of altruistic sharing and the bonds of community beyond narrowly-defined economic transactions. Of course, there is nothing inherently wrong with buying, selling, and renting to and from one another, but we should rectify our language to separate these kinds of transactions and relationships with ones that are not tied to narrowly capitalist forms of exchange. There is nothing wrong with “friending” or “following” as social media conventions, but we also need ways to differentiate these relationships from deeper forms of friendship or fandom.

At best, the “sharing economy” label is a brand marketing strategy that attempts to take advantage of the “feel good” halo associated with words like “community” and “sharing.” At worst, it is a way of obfuscating commercial transactions as “sharing” as a way of evade the reach of regulation and oversight. This is why we need to rectify the names of explicitly commercial transactions that get labelled as “sharing.”

The idea behind coining the term WeWashing is not meant to create an exclusive binary between “real” sharing and “fake” sharing, “real” community and “fake” community, but to draw attention to the fact that a spectrum exists. My life has been enriched by my experiences in the so-called “sharing economy,” beyond what I paid for the services. I have met Uber drivers from places ranging from Tibet to Mauritania, and they have shared with me about their countries and cultures, enriching my understanding of the world. An AirBnB hostess invited me into her family dinner, making me feel instantly at home in a new place. The fact that these were in the context of commercial transactions and relationships did not diminish their meaning.

However, we need to recognize that there are different kinds of sharing and different kinds of community, just as with the concept of “green,” where we recognize that there is a spectrum of “sustainability.” Some products are greener than others, just as some communities are more selflessly “sharing” than others. We need to keep each other honest about where on the spectrum something falls.

Let’s Hack the Language and Take Action

WeWashingas a term enhances our vocabulary and enables us to identify, critique, and engage in dialogue about the misleading use and abuse of terms like “sharing” and “community.” Let’s drop it into our conversations and use it as a hashtag online to call out this phenomenon.

Writing this post and coining the term “WeWashing” is not just a language hack; it is also a cultural intervention and invitation to reflect. It is ultimately not about demonizing corporations who appropriate the language of community and sharing. As my colleague Garance Choko puts it:

The issue is not with corporations co-opting these terms, but more so for us to reclaim how we abide to our “ideal” notion of solidarity, sharing and community.

We must ask ourselves how we can expand the possibilities of the “we.”How should we treat each other? How can we collaborate and cooperate beyond the narrow confines of the marketplace?

Originally published on Medium

Art & Activism Lessons with André Cymone

0003777389_10Last week, I had a chance to talk about the intersections of music and activism with André Cymone. André is Prince’s childhood friend and original bass player. He later went on to build a musical career as a songwriter and producer. In his recent work, André is working to revive a rich American tradition of socially conscious music. We discussed ways we could all could use our creativity and talents to improve our communities and country.

Start with your own story

When I asked André why he does what he does as an artist and activist, he turned to his life history and that of his family. Talking about “art and activism” in the context of civil rights and social justice can be a big and abstract topic, but André grounded things in his own lived experience. He grew up in Minneapolis in a family of six children at a time when the black community was mobilizing for equal civil rights. His brother fought in Vietnam. His mother was a housekeeper who put herself through school, became a social worker, and was able to move the family to a better neighborhood. For André, music became a way of finding a voice and strengthening social connection.

I learned from our conversation that biographical details matter. As artists or activists trying inspire action and incite action, our own personal stories explains the “why” behind what we do. It helps to situate the abstractly political into the concretely personal. It helps us relate with others in our communities, and others that we are trying to reach. A movement starts with a personal story.

Be an ‘Artist’ that challenges people (rather than just an ‘Entertainer’)

“Maybe it started with Elvis. He started out as being Elvis the artist and being kind of daring and risky, but when he put on that rhinestone suit, he became Elvis entertainer. That changed the way people looked at music, artist, and all of that. People started just going after the entertainment factor. People don’t want to hear songs about trouble and strife, they just want to drive to work and be happy.”

But some people want to be challenged. They want to hear the truth. They want to hear ‘art’ as opposed to ‘entertainment.’

We also talked about artists like John Lennon, who started out an entertainer (a good one at that) in the original boyband, the Beatles, and later transformed himself into an “artist” and an activist to speak out for peace and against the Vietnam War. The world still needs artists to step up to the plate, now more than ever.

Use your gift and be a conduit

“The hope is in people like you. We all have a role in making the world we want to pass on to the next generation. My gift is storytelling and songwriting. It’s up to people like me to step up and do what you were put here for. Music is a healing thing. Music is a spiritual thing.”

Sometimes, realizing one’s role in the world means being a conduit for something greater than ourselves. It means surrendering to some higher force and inspiration, reinterpreting somebody else’s story and struggle, and just letting go of the ego.

“If you are an artist and you have a gift, you will write songs that you didn’t really write, because you are just the conduit. This happens to me and to other artists that I know all the time. You will write a song and then say, ‘I never meant to write that song, but before I noticed it was done, music, words, everything. Take the pain and suffering from the world and turn it into music or art. Take other people’s stories and struggles and elevate those stories.”

We all have an individual gift that we can put forth. What is yours?


“Vote. Make a difference. If you don’t vote, you don’t count.”

Cymone has been devoting his time to encouraging eligible voters to register and vote. I got to preview his upbeat new track called “Vote,” which sounds like a cross between early Prince and School House Rock.

While art and technology has opened up many new channels to organize, to participate, and to make change, there are still some old-school forms of political power that we must not forget about. So if you are eligible, register to vote, and show up on election day.

Here are some online resources to help you register and vote:

Also check out André Cymone’s interview with Mike Ragogna on HuffPost Entertainment (just after Barry Manilow)

Originally published at the Huffington Post

#FoossaFinds – 22 October 2014

The Thinking Body

Did you know that Einstein’s insights for the theory of relativity came to him in the form of kinesthetic sensations in his muscles?

In a Wisdom Hackers ebook published this week, Foossa’s Lee-Sean Huang explores issues of embodied cognition and “the thinking body.” You can read a free excerpt of the ebook on Medium, and subscribe to the full series on The Pigeonhole. We also welcome you to join us in discussing these ideas on DebateHub.


@leesean – A Fitness Tracker for Online Communities? Collective Intelligence Meets Wisdom Hackers

@TechReview – Isaac Asimov Mulls “How Do People Get New Ideas?”


Join Purpose and the #GivingTuesday team for a panel on how to maximize donations to your organization
Wednesday, 29 October 2014
Purpose, 115 Fifth Avenue, 6th Floor (Bet. 18th & 19th St.) New York NY 10003


@Dodo/@Melissa_Cronin – Triple Rescue: Baby Ostriches Comfort Baby Elephant As He’s Airlifted

@leesean – Happy Autumn Survivalist Squirrel

Reposted from Foossa.com

Redesigning Museums for Good


A museum is more than a collection of interesting objects.

A memorial is more than a heap or marble or stone.

Each of these types of institutions exist to serve a greater purpose. Whether it’s the British Museum or a local historical society, these organizations create an experience that is meant to inspire some action on the part of those who visit them.

For many years, museums did not take direct responsibility for the conversion point between experience and action — what visitors did after they left the gift shop was their business. But today, some institutions are thinking differently about this key component of their missions, asking tough questions about how the conversion happens and seeking new tools to make sure that it does.


Earlier this year, we went to work on behalf of an institution with an undoubtable moral mandate for action: the Kigali Genocide Memorial in Rwanda, final resting place for more than 250,000 people killed in the 1994 genocide. Aegis Trust, the organization that built and operates the memorial, wanted to make sure that visitors were offered not just a strong emotional experience at the memorial site and museum, but opportunities to help stop genocide today and in the future. So we sent a team of user experience designers to Rwanda to figure it out.

With the help of the Rwandan people, they did it. In their work the team made use of an array of resources, from experts on museum design to their own personal observations at the memorial site. But they were most inspired by the young people who visited and worked at the Kigali site. In workshops and curricula, portable posters and personal stories, the next generation of Rwandans are figuring out how to convert the story of one of history’s worst genocides into hopeful action in their own lives.

Carefully observing these young people, the designers developed a model the Kigali museum — and all museums — can use to convert profound emotional experiences into action. They nicknamed it “the Inzovu Curve” after the Kinyarwanda word for “elephant,” because the arc users travel resembles an elephant’s trunk. Visitors to a memorial or museum first descend into a state of (often painful) empathy with the victims of violence whose stories they encounter.

Many institutions simply abandon them there; the Inzovu Curve instead advises them to provide additional experiences that lift visitors into a state of compassionate action. The model also identifies specific moments of reflection and transformation that will help equip all visitors to make a difference in the world.

Eventbrite: Redesigning Museums for Good

Music Credits: “Rasputin” by HEPNOVA

Wisdom Hackers launching October 6


Wisdom Hackers: An Incubator for Philosophers to Launch Oct. 6th

The 6th of October 2014 sees the launch of an exciting series of philosophical dispatches from young, edgy thinkers from major cities across the globe – Berlin, London, Mexico City, Nairobi, New York, Paris, and San Francisco.

Founded in the summer of 2014, Wisdom Hackers brings together fresh voices from art, activism, technology, and design to ask “ancient questions in modern contexts.” Over the course of eight weeks, participants (affec- tionately called “Seekers”) each explored a deep question and produced meditations on these questions in the form of dispatches. Questions related to the future of democracy, technology consumption, the inherent wisdom of children, the evolution of consciousness, and the nature of Enlightenment in the world today.

The community of “Seekers” includes British novelist Anna Stothard, actress and poet Grace Dunham, Occupy journalist Nathan Schneider, hacker and activist Brett Scott, and artist and TED Fellow Rachel Sussman. For a complete list of Seekers see: www.wisdomhackers.com/seekers

The philosophical dispatches will be published through a new digital literary start-up called The Pigeonhole, starting on October 6th. The Pigeonhole harnesses 21st-century technology to bring back the serialized book, a format made famous by Dickens, Dumas and Dostoevsky. Through the Pigeonhole bespoke app and transmedia platform, Wisdom Hackers will publish their dispatches direct to readers.

“Our aim in partnering with the Pigeonhole is to create new markets for self-expression outside of traditional publishing,” says Wisdom Hackers Founder Alexa Clay. “Our very real challenge is to understand how philosophy and wisdom can be adapted for our digital age. We want to create a learning community of the future where spirited inquiry into life’s burning questions are actively encouraged and shared with a wider public.”

Wisdom Hackers participant and journalist, Nathan Schneider offered his own observations on the experience, “It’s such a relief to be able to have an excuse to put the quest for wisdom at the center of one’s work for a spell. Even if we wouldn’t say it out loud, it’s that quest that secretly motivates so many of us. Wisdom Hackers has been a much-needed coming-out party for clandestine mystics, dreamers, wanderers, and guerrillas in a world that ordinarily prefers not to make a place for them—for us.”

For more information contact:
Alexa Clay
Founder, Wisdom Hackers
+ 49 (0) 176 8473 8303

Kelly Pike
Hello Public Relations
+44 (0) 7824 812520

Relevant links: