Humanity in the Time of Corona – Hack the Virus

This brief talk discusses how we can innovate from a place of love, rather than fear, across three facets of humanity in the time of Corona.

With privacy, we can reinforce our individual autonomy while protecting each other as a group. With pleasure, we can inspire healthy and sustainable changes in behavior. And with other people, we can stay connected with our support networks and loved ones.

The things we create should amplify our humanity, not undermine it.

Opening Keynote: Humanity in the Time of Corona

Hack the Virus – Innovation Competition in Egypt
Kickoff: 18 April 2020 at 17:00 (UTC+2)


👇🏼 Skip to the transcript

Design Coaching

As a contribution to our collective cause, The Greatness Studio will provide free UX coaching to the four winners of the design competition. Let’s work together and help each other reach that light at the end of this tunnel!

Hack the Virus Online Competition, Humanity in the Time of Corona - digital flyer showing all the partners (United Nations, Novartis, Dell, itida, and tiec)


Special thanks to Ghada Alaa Hamdy and Rasha Tantawy!


Rasha Tantawy
And finally I come to a very exciting part.

I would like to introduce Brian Pagán, a dear friend and someone whom I find a guru in his area, human-centric design. I mean, we called him I think maybe at the beginning of this week.

And he made the time and he made the effort, and he’s worked very hard with us to deliver this to you. And I’m very excited to hear his talk.

But also I understand that he has a very nice surprise for us at the end of his talk. So I don’t wanna take more of your time.

Enjoy his talk. And hack the virus, hack from home. Stay home, stay positive, stay safe.

And see you next Saturday, take care.

Brian Pagán
Wow, thank you very much. (laughing)

Shukran, habibti! There’s the fantastic thing. I appreciate it.

I love that you set the tone about humanity.

And to piggyback also a little bit of what Alok was saying, I just want to share an inspiring story, or a story that I’ve been hearing a lot lately about humanity in the midst of a shared crisis.

So during World War I in 1914, at Christmastime there were German and French soldiers fighting on opposite sides.

And when Christmas came around, at some point they just stopped fighting.

They had an informal truce, against all orders to the contrary, against all of the officers and the leaders that told them that they must not have a truce and they must keep fighting.

Tey decided, no, we are going to be humans today. And they got together and they celebrated together with their shared ritual of Christmas.

And that for me is an extremely inspiring example of how a crisis can bring people together.

Just like you were saying, Alok, this crisis is showing how we can bring people together and how people collaborate, and how humanity is gonna be the thing that helps us to get through this.

Not only to survive, but to thrive and become even better. So what I love about that scenario is that it was a shared circumstance.

Those people, those soldiers, understood that they were in a thing together.

For them it was war. But for us, it’s not war. It’s something else.

And I apologize, Daniel, for what I’m about to say. But I know a lot of people prefer to use the language of war to describe our effort with coronavirus and COVID-19.

But I prefer to use other language. I prefer to use more language of struggle, of rumbling, of a shared effort towards a further goal.

And I understand it. There’s nothing wrong about it. (laughing) I see you smiling as well.

But I just wanted to take things in a maybe different direction. Because the way I see things, especially the way we use tech, and the way that we build tech or should be building tech, is that…

The things we create should be amplifying our humanity, not undermining it.

And for that thought, I wanted to zoom in onto three different specific aspects around tech, especially when it comes to tech interventions around the coronavirus that we’re dealing with now.

So for me, three very important parts of humanity dealing with privacy, with pleasure, and with people.

And like other people, privacy for me is very important. And I feel like it’s a part of our humanity, indeed, because there’s no shared public space without a private individual space.

We can’t be together unless we can truly be alone.

Secondly, pleasure is something that is intrinsic to the human experience. We are always avoiding things that hurt us, and going towards things that make us feel good, that help us feel pleasure.

And finally, people, no matter what happens, especially now, but no matter what’s going on, we always need each other. And the fantastic thing is that we are in this together.

So what does that have to do with technology? What does that have to do with the next two weeks that we’re gonna be working on things together?

First of all, privacy. (laughing) Privacy is especially important now, given the fact that we are talking a lot about apps that track our location or that try to understand where we’ve been, with whom we’ve had contact, and what we can do.

We can still achieve the same goals in ways that will support and bolster our privacy, rather than undermining it.

For example, when you’re creating your solution, or when we are creating our solutions, we should collect as few data as possible. I understand that we need to understand people and our solutions might have to understand something about the people that they’re empowering or the people that use them.

But if we can minimize the data that we do collect, then that’s already something that brings us further than a lot of companies that are creating solutions out there already.

And secondly, when we do collect data, data collection isn’t intrinsically bad, okay? Of course we need it.

But we can also be very creative in the ways that we process those data. If we can think of peer to peer or decentralized ways that, for example, apps can share data with each other, then we can also collect and process data in ways that help our privacy.

For example, there’s an app, or at least a concept of an app that would be a COVID tracker, for example. So that when one person goes to a specific place, then they have that app on their phone and that app connects with the same app on someone else’s phone, and just shares a secret key.

That key is not stored anywhere except for the local devices that are having the app. And if one of those people tests positive for COVID-19, then everyone who has come in contact with that specific shared key will become notified of that.

And in that way, there’s no middle man, no unnecessary. It’s very private, but it also is very informative. And there’s no personal data involved. It’s simply a seed that grows into a network of information.

The second thing is pleasure. How do we think about pleasure in times of COVID-19? Like, what (laughing)?

But in essence, everything that I see that we create, every product, everything that we design ultimately boils down to some form of behavior change.

We want to inspire people to avoid something and go towards something else. And if we want to inspire healthier behaviors, like washing hands or like keeping distance from other people, then the more pleasurable that we can make healthy behaviors, then the more engaging and more sustainable those behaviors will become over time.

And in that way, ironically enough, then the healthy behaviors can become contagious as well. And in that way, that contagion replaces the viral contagion, which helps us all.

A funny example of this might be something like the movie, “Mary Poppins.” I’m not sure if everyone’s familiar with this.

But “Mary Poppins” is a very old movie about a nanny who comes to a household to watch children, and she happens to be magical.

And the way that she gets kids to do housework, for example, is to make a game out of cleaning up. Or she sings a song about taking medicine, which makes the children enjoy taking the medicine or enjoy cleaning up, things that they hated doing before, but it’s actually good for them in the end.

If we can keep this or adapt this philosophy for our interventions, it can help us to inspire people to do healthier behaviors.

Finally, when we talk about people, we need each other, especially now. And no person is an island.

And so if we can leverage or allow or inspire people to connect to broader social support networks, then that’s already helpful. Not only for them, but also for us as a society, as a whole.

So to go back to the example of the Christmas truce, what brought those soldiers together was a ritual. It was a social ritual that they all shared.

And because of their shared culture, it was something that transcended the cultures of the war that held them apart. It was something that brought them together.

And if we can somehow lean on rituals that people love and people might be missing in times of physical distancing, then we can enhance their lives and enhance their social feeling and their social belonging, while at the same time helping us all go against the COVID-19 virus.

And if we can strengthen old relationships or existing relationships and create new ones, then that’s beneficial for all of us. So I understand that we have more time for this talk, but I do want to keep this brief.

Because now is the time for action and not the time for talking.

So what I wanna do is, before I close up, I’d like us to take a moment just to together reconnect individually with our own humanity. But doing so together, we will connect to each other.

So don’t worry, no one’s watching you. So no one needs to be embarrassed.

But let’s just take a moment to close our eyes and then take a deep breath together.

(Brian exhaling)

Keep your eyes closed. And feel your connection with the earth.

Feel your weight in the chair that you might be sitting in. Or if you’re standing, feel your feet on the ground.

And pay close attention to your breath for just a moment. And while you’re experiencing this, reflect on the last time that you felt loved, the last time that you felt like you were in control, like everything was okay.

This is the kind of feeling that we would like to inspire in people that use the products and interventions and the things that we create in the next two weeks.

So let’s open our eyes again. Come back together.

Thank you for sharing that experience with me. And to close up, I just wanna say that, first of all, I’m extremely grateful to everyone, for all the partners for putting this event together, to Rasha and Faten for bringing me into it and involving me in this.

I’m extremely honored to be here. And I’m also very much looking forward to working together with the winners!

Because the Greatness Studio, so my business, is gonna be offering some UX coaching to the winners of the competition. And we’re gonna work together to make some wonderful products and interventions for this shared thing that we’re going through together.

Thank you very much.

Thank you, Brian. Thank you, thank you so much.

I’m going to repeat this in Arabic. So Brian, (speaking in Arabic) winners. (Speaking in Arabic), mentorship one to one.

Brian is the CEO of the Greatness Studio. And he does this. He (speaking in Arabic) and UX design. (Speaking in Arabic) winners. (Speaking in Arabic), one on one. The opportunity (speaking in Arabic).

Thank you, Brian, so much for this opportunity. We look forward to working with you.

And I want to thank all my partners. Again, Alok, thank you.

Thank UNTIL and all the UN organizations that I don’t wanna name them one by one, but thank all of them. They were all amazing.

I want to thank Novartis, our strategic partner. And I want to also thank Dell.

It’s always a pleasure working with Dell. It’s a long term relationship. It’s there to stay.

And we’re very excited about the next four weeks. Not four weeks, the next week, because I have something also that I want to tell everybody.

We’re going to be extending the deadline from the 21st to the 24th to give the people more chance to be able to register and apply, again, on

bAnd looking forward to filtering all your applications out there. And whatever you get, the craziest idea you get, don’t limit your ideas.

Send it to us. You never know.

Sometimes the craziest ideas are the best ones. So yeah, that’s it.

And see you next Saturday. Thank you all.

Thank you.

Thanks, everybody.