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I want to be a culture hacker

August 1, 2011

In this post, I’d like to define what I believe to be a new word, or at least a new use of a fairly young word:

Culture Hacking: using technology, games and other non-traditional methods to positively infect the culture of a community with joy, kindness and a love of learning.

In case you don’t know, I’m using the term hacking with in its original, positive sense, best explained by MIT, “a “hacker” is someone who does some sort of interesting and creative work at a high intensity level.” See MIT’s gallery of many amazing and delightful campus hacks.

I thought of the idea of culture hacking idea when reading a recent post by Jonathan Martin, Improving or Jen Ratio: Gaming for greater kindness & happiness in schools. Martin’s post is fascinating reflection on the book that I need to read, Reality is Broken, Why Games Make Us Better and How they can Change the World. But the most fascinating piece of the article for me was the mention of one particular game I had never heard of, Cruel 2 B Kind. To get a better idea of how the game works, check out this video from Current TV (Note: the audio in this video is slightly mis-aligned. Don’t know why that is).

Cruel 2 B Kind is an amazing reversal of Assassins, the game that’s a fixture on most college and high school campuses. But in this permutation, you kill with kindness. Participants go up to strangers and be nice in some way—welcome them to the city, offer a compliment, etc. If the person you approach is a participant in the game, like assassins, they must surrender their token, and join your team. Since this entire game is taking place in the background of daily life, and people have no idea of who is or isn’t playing, to a stranger who watches this “kill”, it just looks like one person being nice to another. And for the participants—you’re normalizing some great behaviors like welcoming strangers and interacting with passers-by. This is culture hacking!

And now that I have this new term, I realize it’s something I’ve been wanting to do all along, I just didn’t know what to call it. Like when I first saw Dan’s SLVSCAV culture hack, where he created a scavenger hunt to teach students the things—you’re awesome, your school is awesome, and your community is awesome. I tried to get students at my school to replicate SLVSCAV, and I am still working on this. Or when Peyten Dobbs blogged about random acts of learning and flash lectures on campus.

Here’s another simple culture hack—during a recent renovation of my school, plasma screens were installed all over the campus to display news about the school and other tidbits and trivia. Unfortunately, the initiative has languished a bit; now they only display one bit of trivia: did you know that there are over 4000 languages spoken on the world? (me: I do now, since I see this everywhere I go). So here’s an idea: e-Kudos. Create a simple google form that asks the following question: Tell me something nice someone did for someone else campus today. Then all you need to do is screen the responses and upload em to the plasma screens, and suddenly the campus is filled with tiny bits of praise for random acts of kindness around school.

Now I want to be a culture hacker. Actually, I want to form a club of students on campus who want to be culture hackers—how cool would that be? Problem is, for the first time in my life, I’m not sure if I have room for one more thing. That’s why I’m writing about it here, in order to keep the idea ready for the future when I have more time, and hoping a bit that one of my dear readers might want to take this idea and run with it.

4 Comments leave one →
  1. Tara permalink
    August 2, 2011 11:30 am

    Culture hacking sounds like it could go in a lot of ways. When you say you want to start it, what did u have in mind for the initial “projects”. Or were going to let the studentswho join the group make that decision? Or have you not thought about that? 🙂
    Also, I really like the idea of putting student responses to a question on the flat screens. Maybe they could text the response to a campus # or fill out a survey located on the school website.

    • August 2, 2011 2:33 pm

      What I’d really love is an amazing 9th grade student who wanted to take this idea and put her own spin on it to lead a culture hacking club to begin to tweak and transform the cuture of her school. I’ve put a few ideas I’ve had here on this post, and the #day1wms project post I wrote yesterday. I would love to be the faculty sponsor who offers occasional assistance and ideas, but I can’t be the person that makes these these things happen, which is a good thing, IMO. The best culture hackers are going to be the students anyway, since they already determine so much of the culture of a school in the first place.

      So if you know of anyone–hint, hint, who might want to take on such a mission, you also know how to contact me.

  2. August 5, 2011 11:18 pm

    So, another facet that could undergo some culture hacking: sexism. self–image of girls. Another teacher on campus is starting some meaningful dialogue as to why all the girls quit the debate team after a year or so while the boys seem to dig in and stick with it. Would you and your fellow culture hackers be willing to talk with us about this issue of girls and public image? Certainly, this may not become the target for this year, but I’d love the plant to seed and see if there is a way to incorporate this issue some.

    • August 5, 2011 11:24 pm

      Yes—culture hacking could be an amazing tool to take on sexism, I think. This is a HUGE issue for me, at my school, in my city, and all across the world. Just yesterday, I saw this quick video while searching for something for Dan Meyer’s homework: A Year’s worth of makeup. What Can You Do With This?

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