#WeWashing

TLDR;

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

An Awkward Cyborg: The State of Healthcare User Experience

Check out my latest post on Medium about my take on the state of UX in the American healthcare system:

While sitting in the the waiting room this morning for a routine medical lab test, I applied my designer’s eye to what I was experiencing and started thinking about the state of user experience in American healthcare.

From my perspective as a designer and a patient, I characterize the state of the industry today as “an awkward cyborg.” On one hand, we have the shiny veneer of technological innovation, but on the other, we still have a lot of work to do to address the human emotional elements of the healthcare experience.

Read more on Medium.

An Awkward Cyborg

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CATALYST: Meet the Team

A fitness tracker for online communities and conversations? What is CATALYST all about? Meet the team and discover why we are so passionate about it!

Online communities have been playing an increasingly important role in supporting grassroots initiatives in the area of social innovation and sustainability. However, as such platforms go larger and larger, it is more and more difficult for community managers to ensure efficient debates among citizens, i.e. to ensure collective ideation, decision and action.

Major community networks and leading research institutes have teamed up to tackle this issue with the support of the European Commission’s research funding programme. Over 2 years, through the CATALYST project, they will develop and test collective intelligence tools and make them available, as open source solutions, to any interested communities.

Use cases planned in the short term should demonstrate how CATALYST developments can boost local initiatives in the area of social innovation, increase awareness on new sustainable lifestyles, support eGovernance efforts of European cities and even empower citizens and the civil society in debating emerging issues for the new European Constitution.

Help us test CATALYST

We have partnered with the Wisdom Hackers community to test DebateHub, part of the CATALYST suite of open source tools. Join us in a collective ideation, discussion, and debate of ways to maintain the festival spirit, how to think outside the cubicle and activate the thinking body, and much more.

Music credit for CATALYST video: “Daybreak” by Baja Snake/HEPNOVA

#FoossaFinds – 25 July 2014

#FoossaFinds curates insightful readings, awesome events, #SpiritAnimals, and other inspiration. Look for it on Fridays.  Reposted from Foossa.com/blog.

ARTICLES

The Social Innovation Revolution Cheryl Heller, SVA Design for Social Innovation Business and social innovation aren’t typical bedmates. But as the rising class of altruistic entrepreneurs takes over, business as usual for designers is being redefined. Taiwan’s Sunflower Protest: Digital Anatomy of a Movement Tracey Cheng, Flip the Media On March 18th, 2014, hundreds of students occupied Taiwan’s parliament, to protest against the Cross-Strait Service Trade Agreement (CSSTA). A network of tech-savvy volunteers immediately began to use digital tools to broadcast their message to sympathizers and the public. Soon, thousands of citizens rallied on the streets outside the parliament to support the students inside. This movement became known as the “Sunflower Movement.” Here is an inside look at the strategies, tactics, and tools that fueled the Movement. Public Displays of Transaction Chiara Atik, Medium/Matter How Venmo became the ultimate social network for voyeurs and gossips

EVENTS

Subway Sets is back!  Saturday, 2 August 2014, 7:30 PM Subway Sets is bringing New York’s best underground music to the largest rooftop farm in the world for an epic night underneath the stars. Come experience what TimeOut NYC called one of “the coolest things to do on an NYC rooftop”. Get tickets now. TEDxGramercy | Grit  Saturday, 27 September 2014, 4-8 PM Mason Hall, Baruch college, 17 Lexington Avenue, New York, NY 10010 Get early-bird tickets and suggest speakers.

Video

“Design is not a science, just move things around until it feels right.”

#SPIRITANIMALS

Help save the world’s saddest polar bear. 980x Snooty, the world’s oldest manatee turns 66 66-year-old-manatee-snooty-9

Imagine the future of organised civil society and help design the future of online debate

On 23rd June, Euclid Network and Purpose will be launching the first online discussion on the future of civil society, and we would like you to take part. The subject for this initial debate will be:

“How could civil society organisations attract more people to work and volunteer with them?”

At this stage, all we ask you to do is to click here to let us know you want to take part in the debate, and we will then contact you on Monday 23rd with a link to your debate.

The aim behind these debates is not only to gather a wide range of views on organised civil society, but to also test how new online deliberation technologies can support more robust debates and discussions than traditional platforms. In particular you will be involved in the testing of DebateHub, an innovative online debating tool developed by the Open University, which uses the Internet to harness collective intelligence.

As the tool is still in the testing stage we will be splitting participants into different testing groups, and we will present different groups with different user interfaces for online discussion. For this reason you may know someone else who is participating, but you might not be involved in the same debate group, and may not use the same debate tool.

Regardless of which test group you are in, all contributions to the debates will contribute to a unique collective picture and will be synthesized and incorporated into a report on “Imagining the Future of Civil Society”, to be published by Euclid, Purpose and the Open University. All contributors to the debates will be recognised as co-authors of the report.

In summary as a participant:

  • you will be contributing to the debate of important Civil Society issues,
  • you will help the research and development of innovative technologies for public deliberation,
  • you will be listed as co-author of a publicly available report on “Imagining the Future of Civil Society”.

We look forward to hearing from you, and please do not hesitate to contact us with any questions you may have.

Thanks and kind regards,

Stephen J Barnett, Euclid Network
Lee-Sean Huang, Purpose
Anna De Liddo, The Open University