Do Kids CleanApp Better Than Grownups?

Do Kids CleanApp Better Than Grownups?

We like Reddit because it gives us a chance to present CleanApp to different online communities, but Reddit is also a tough little platform to master because every subreddit has its own rules.  Nonetheless, we love some of the subreddit themes like “Today I learned …” and “Explain like I’m five…” — thought processes that are really useful because they require you to explain your project in a way that that audience will understand.

So, today, we’re going to try to explain how CleanApp works to a five year old. We wrote a dialogue that we’re hoping someone can help us develop into a children’s book. It’s called, “Can Kids CleanApp Better Than Grownups?” — and the starting premise is simple: a parent is hurrying about the house, trying to get things together, the kids are crying, and a father grabs his phone, quickly opens an app, hands the phone to his 5 year old, saying something like:

“Here, check out this new CleanApp thingy — Auntie Nina said her kids love it and can’t stop talking about it. I have to find the keys!  Keys, where are the keys!!!?? And, why are your socks still on the floor!!!  Arghghghgh, I asked you to cleanup your socks five times, don’t you remember that Roomba gets stuck on them? Don’t touch them! Just sit there and watch this CleanApp thingy — we’re running late as it is, KEYS! Where are the KEYS!!!”

At this point, the phone chimes in, the frantic parent fades into the background to resume the search for KEYS, and the dialogue between the child and the future begins.

CA: Hi, what’s up? Did you see what Dora the Explorer did in Antarctica?

5YO: Yeah, did she really go to the South Pole with the gecko?

CA: Don’t know, but we really hope Dora CleanApp-ed all the litter she found along the way?

5YO: There’s litter in Antarctica?  Is it from all the candy bars that penguins eat?  Did you know that there are no penguins in the Arctic, and that there are no polar bears in Antarctica?

CA: Unfortunately, yes, there’s a ton of litter, and ALL of it is from human activity — like explorers who bring gasoline canisters, and when they are done, they just throw them away, which is really harmful to the environment and to the penguins and whales and all life in Antarctica.

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5YO: There’s life in Antarctica?  But it’s so cold!

CA: Yeah, even though it’s so cold, there is a ton of life there, including a lot of sea life (like the fish that penguins eat, and the plankton that whales eat). And it turns out that litter in Antarctica is five times worse than we thought!  It’s like that scene in Happy Feet when Happy Feet and his friends find all the trash being dumped in the ocean.  It sucks.

5YO: Ahh, ok, so why don’t we just ban people from going to Antarctica?

CA: It won’t work to ban people from going to Antarctica altogether. Well we’ll still want to do research there to learn more about life in those extreme conditions, because it can teach us about life on other planets.

5YO: Like Aliens?

CA: Yeah, maybe, who knows. And the trash that’s found in Antarctica doesn’t just come from people who visit Antarctica.  In fact, most of it washes up on Antarctic shores from dumping that happens far far away from Antarctica.  Our world is so interconnected that a candy wrapper that’s dropped on your playground can find its way into a gutter and then into a river and then into the sea, eventually ending up in Antarctica, where it can be eaten by a penguin or a whale.  And plastic really hurts their tummies, just like eating plastic really hurts our human tummies.

5YO: Ah, I see. But wait a second, Antarctica doesn’t have shores. It’s all ice, how does trash go from the sea up those walls of ice.  Are you sure about this?

CA: No, even though much of Antarctica is covered in snow and ice most of the year, during the Antarctic summer, there are lots of places where there’s no ice and no snow. And because of climate change, every year, there’s less and less ice in Antarctica.  So more and more litter will actually wash up on those rocky beaches.  And those are the places where many penguins like to make their nests.

File:Waterboat Point, Antarctica (6122949970).jpg

5YO: Aww, penguins are so cute. Let’s do the penguin dance from Mary Poppins! Let’s do the penguin dance from Mary Poppins!! Let’s do the penguin dance from Mary Poppins!!

CA: Hahaha, we will, we will.  But first we have to figure out what we’re going to do about litter so that it doesn’t end up in our tummies here, in penguin tummies over in Antarctica, so that we CleanApp all the litter that humans have dumped into the environment.

5YO: If there’s so much litter out there, can we really do that?

CA: Yes we can. As our parents teach us, if you break it, you have to fix it.  Humans are breaking the environment by polluting it with litter, and humans have to be the ones that fix it.


5YO: But really, we can cleanup all the litter that we’ve ever ever dumped into the environment?

CA: Yes, all the litter that we’ve ever ever ever ever ever ever dumped.

5YO: All the litter that we’ve ever ever ever ever ever ever ever ever ever ever ever ever ever ever dumped!?CA Logo Wordv3

CA: Yes.

5YO: All the litter that we’ve ever ever ever ever ever ever ever ever ever ever ever ever ever ever ever ever ever ever ever ever ever ever …

CA: Yes, you silly kiddo. And shhhh, your little brother is sleeping in the stroller, we don’t want to wake him up. Let me tell you about how cool CleanApp is.

5YO: But you said cleanup, what’s CleanApp — isn’t that the same thing?  Are you just being silly?

CA: They sound the same because they’re doing the same thing, except with different tools.  And yeah, it’s ok to be silly even when you’re doing really serious things.  It’s important to remember what and who we’re doing all of this for.

5YO: Penguins~~!!

CA: Penguins, yes, but also for all life on Earth, including you and your brother and mommy and daddy.  As you know, little one, Earth still the only habitable planet we know, so there is no other planet we can just move to. So just like mommy teaches us to clean our rooms, Mama Nature is telling us that it’s time to CleanApp our planet.

5YO: Ok, so what’s CleanApp?

CA: Glad you asked.  CleanApp is any form of technology that allows you to take a photo of trash or some dangerous condition that you think needs cleanup or fixing. All you have to do is ask Alexa or Siri or Google to “CleanApp these cigarette butts from the playground” — but always remember to say, “please.”

Attachment-1 (1)5YO: I like Siri, she’s silly.  I can ask her any question and she gives me totally weird answers.  And then I tell the answers to my parents and they go nuts because they don’t know where I got my answers.  It’s so funny!!!!!

CA: Yeah, Siri and Alexa and Google are young, like us, and they also have a lot of growing up to do.  And the cool thing about CleanApp is we’ll all be growing up together!

5YO: I like you. We’re friends. How old are you?

CA: We’re also five, we were born in 2013, like you.

5YO: Cool! 5 year olds rule, 9 year olds drool!

CA: Now now, there are lots of cool 9 year olds out there too.  We had a 9 year old friend who taught us a lot about CleanApp when we were just a baby; we wouldn’t be here talking if it wasn’t for the work of so many people around the world who helped us grow and continue to help us grow. Here’s our friend back then, teaching everyone–us included–about CleanApp:

5YO: So if that was 5 years ago, he’s like ancient now, like 13, right?

CA: Very close, 9 + 5 = 14. But let’s get back to CleanApp.

5YO: OK!

CA: Great. So, next time you see trash at a playground or trash at a park, you can just ask the grownups for their phone to do some CleanApping — if it’s the type of trash that you don’t want to touch, like cigarettes.

5YO: Yeah, cigarette butts are gross!  Do you know, that’s why they’re called “butts.”  My momma doesn’t let me say bad words, but she lets me say “cigarette butt” because she said it’s important for me to know what it is so that, and then … I don’t put it in my mouth. One time, I stopped my little brother from choking on a cigarette butt that he found in the playground and then … he started eating.  And then he was choking, and then … he nearly died! And then … my momma said she was so proud of me, and then … daddy was really mad that my brother touched the cigarette butt and was even more mad at the idiot who threw cigarette butts in a kids playground.CleanApp - iPad iPhone-01

CA: You’re awesome! Seriously, you’re a real lifesaver, like a firefighter or a lifeguard. That’s so cool. We’re also very proud of you.  But your momma is right, you shouldn’t use bad words like “idiot.”  The people who dump cigarette butts in playgrounds just don’t know better yet, and it’s our job to teach them.  And as we learned with candy wrappers in penguin nests, trash finds sneaky ways of travelling around the world, so we may not know where the cigarette butts came from — and that’s as big a problem as the cigarette butt itself.

5YO: So what do we do about this? I was really scared when my brother almost died, I don’t want it to happen to anyone.

CA: What we have to do is more CleanApp! For trash that we can’t pickup right then and there, we have to send quick CleanApp reports using whatever tools we have available to us, whether it’s Siri, or Twitter, or Alexa and so on.

cleanappbrief25YO: We can use any of them for CleanApp?

CA: Yes, in fact, the more the merrier.  There are even special apps like Litterati and World Cleanup Day that are made just for this. And there are even sites like that allow you to earn @Littercoin when you submit CleanApp reports.

5YO: Isn’t that child labor?  Momma says I can’t work until I’m 16! And then … momma says I’ll have to pay rent if I don’t clean my room and put away my toys to where they belong!

CA: Aww, you’re funny. And smart.  We don’t know if it’s child labor or what the rules for that will be, but you’re absolutely right that these are the types of questions we need to be thinking about now, rather than later.

5YO: I like asking questions. My teachers say that asking questions is the foundation of all knowledge, and then … they always get excited when me and my friends ask questions.

CA: First, it’s “when I and my friends ask questions,” not “me and my friends ask questions.” Second, you’re five! Where do you have teachers?

5YO: Yeah, I’m like … in pre-K. You’re five too, do you go to pre-K?

CA: Yeah, and Medium and Twitter are like pre-K for us. But pre-K is a great example of how we can CleanApp everywhere.  Think back to your classrooms and playgrounds.  Are there things that you think you’d be able to CleanApp if you just had a magic wand & you could make those things disappear?


5YO: Yeah, I’d want to CleanApp Blob, he’s mean!

CA: Whoa, whoa, whoa.  Hold on a second!  Who’s Blob!?

5YO: That’s our nickname for this mean bully kid who is always going around pushing everyone, and the teachers are always talking to his parents. Can I use CleanApp to report Blob to someone?

CA: It’s a great question, but for situations like this, you need to report these immediately to your parents and teachers. You shouldn’t use CleanApp to report living things like spiders and lizards, and yes, even bullies like Blob. What’s Blob’s real name, by the way?

5YO: I don’t know, everyone just calls him “Blob,” because one time he sat on a kid in a playground like a blob of goo and then … he wouldn’t move, and then … the kid that got sat on, Diego, also couldn’t move. We had to get five kids to push the Blob off, and then … our Diego had blood coming out of his nose, and then … he had dirt all over his clothes.  And then … we started calling the bully Blob.

CA: That’s horrible!  I’m so sorry to hear that!! You should tell this story to your parents, and also try to learn Blob’s name, because maybe the reason he’s staying so mean is because everyone now calls him Blob.

5YO: No, he calls himself Blob too now.  Can we use CleanApp to cleanup Diego next time Blob sits on him?

CA: Oh, you kids. We don’t want there to be a next time! And it’s your job as well to make sure there is no next time.  You got it? As for CleanApp on clothes, we think that in a few years, technology will actually allow that. This will make spot cleaning much better, which is way better for the environment.

5YO: Really?

CA: Yeah, technology is growing faster than you, even!  And look at how fast you’re growing. You’ve gotten taller just in the time we’ve been chatting together.

5YO: I heard that in the future, Elon Musk will give everyone spacesuits with “bioweapon defense mode” … that way we can walk around and breathe better and stay healthy.


CA: Spacesuits are great for space, but our job with CleanApp is to make sure we never get to a point where humans will need to wear helmets or air filters to breathe the Earth’s delicious fresh air.

5YO: Oh, yeah, can we use CleanApp to report dirty air?

CA: With time, yes, that’s our goal. When phones and smartglasses and smart watches have ways of measuring air pollution and water pollution, then yes, there’s no reason why we shouldn’t be CleanApping the air and our rivers and beaches.

5YO: Cool. But I still want a SpaceX helmet to help me filter the air when my little brother farts.  His farts are stinky!

CA: Now you’re just being silly.  Those stinky farts are just nature’s way of getting you to appreciate clean air.  Now let’s get back to CleanApp — there’s a lot more cool stuff we want to tell you about.

5YO: Ok, but can I have milk? Milk! Milk!! Milk!!!!!!

CA: We don’t have any milk, you’ll have to ask your parents. And you didn’t say “please,” so even if we had milk, we wouldn’t give it to you.  Will you listen, though? So, … CleanApp is for trash and hazards you may find along the way as you’re going about your day.


5YO: NO!!!!!! I’m not listening anymore because you didn’t say “please!” Milk!!!!!!!!!!!!

CA: You’re totally right, please accept our apology.  Totally didn’t notice that.  Thank you for catching it, and goodness gracious — you are a FAST learner!

5YO: Thank you. Did you know, mommy and daddy sometimes call me “teacher” because I’m always teaching my little brother how to do things.  Except those stinky farts — he learned to do that on his own.

CA: You’re just adorable.

5YO: Thank you! Ok, so here’s how to CleanApp … so, whenever I’m walking and then … I see … like, a, spider, and then … I can ask my mom for her phone and then … I can CleanApp that spider. I’m five years old, trust me, if there’s one thing I know how to do it’s to separate my mother from her phone.

CA: Hahahahaha.  You’re a clever kiddo.  But none of us have all the answers. As we do more and more CleanApp, we have to realize that there are some really basic things about CleanApping as a practice that we will need to figure out together over time.  Take spiders, for instance.

5YO: Yeah, spiders suck! I hate spiders! Did you know that Taratulas have fangs and then … they can kill you with just one bite!?

CA: Yes, we know that there are some spiders like Tara-N-tulas, and that some can be dangerous. But even the most dangerous spiders use their fangs and poison as a defense. Did YOU know that humans are actually the most dangerous species out there? Some scientists say that as a life form, we are responsible for more extinctions than any other life form, in all of known history!  This is why the spiders are probably more scared of us than we should be scared of them.

5YO: No! I hate spiders. They gross ME out.

CA: We hear you, little britches! We know that some folks hate spiders and think they’re hazards. But other people think spiders are some of the most precious and beautiful life forms out there.  So to make it easy, that’s why CleanApp urges simple bright line rules, like the ones you have in pre-K. This way, we hope to make it easier for us to all get on the same page about what should be CleanApped and shouldn’t be CleanApped.

ca rule 5 - living things2

5YO: Ahh, I see. But Jenny says Blob looks like Frankenstein, and that he’s “trash.”

CA: No, Jenny’s wrong, sweetie. People aren’t trash, no matter how gross Bob’s behavior is. We should never judge a book by its cover. And we must always try to help Blob get better. That’s why we can’t CleanApp living people.

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5YO: But Jenny says Blob is hopeless and that he’ll grow up to be mean, like the Grinch Who Stole Christmas!

CA: Maybe, but please remember, even the meanest Grinches can learn to be better. And we want them to be better because we all live in the same big house, our Planet Earth. If we just give up on Blob, then his trash will keep floating around, ending up in Antarctica and on our dinner plates.

5YO: What? What do you mean our dinner plates?

CA: Well, maybe you don’t know this yet, but every year more and more of the trash that has been dumped into the environment keeps breaking down into smaller and smaller parts, eventually becoming what’s known as “microplastic.”  And, then, microplastic finds its way into foods we need to eat to survive, like salt, and our fruits and veggies.

5YO: Oh, so that’s why I don’t like to eat veggies!

ca farms

CA: No, veggies are delicious, you silly goose. But with microplastic in our food and in animals’ food, we can all get very very sick. This is why it’s so important to always Reduce, Reuse and Recycle all of our resources–especially plastics.


5YO: I don’t want to get sick. When I’m sick, my mom doesn’t let me play outside with my friends.

CA: We don’t want you to get sick either, which is why we’re working so hard to get everyone to CleanApp the planet. We also love playing outside with friends! Along with lemonade, it’s our favorite thing in the world!  And you know what the greatest outdoors party in the whole wide world is?

5YO: No, what?

CA: It’s called World Cleanup Day — starting September 15th this year, and every year after that, people around our whole planet will be working to CleanApp the world.

5YO: Really?

CA: Yeah, we’re planning the greatest single day CleanApp action the world has ever seen! From Mumbai to Lagos, Hong Kong to Mexico City, Memphis to Rio de Janeiro, Sydney to Tallinn, hundreds of millions of people will be taking photos of litter, mapping it, and cleaning it up!

5YO: Are kids allowed?

WCD FB cover2

CA: Of course! Kids are at the heart of CleanApp and World Cleanup Day!

5YO: So, what can I do?

CA: Awww, we love your energy and enthusiasm!!! Here’s what you need to do to get started CleanApping.  We already said that you can use many different apps to do CleanApp.  Here are some examples.

  • For instance, you can use your daddy’s Twitter to post a photo of spilled milk next time you’re in a supermarket, just tag it #CleanApp, and we’ll do everything we can to make sure that CleanApp Report makes its way to a someone who can do something about that spill before someone gets hurt;
  • You can ask your parents to install apps like @WorldCleanupDay, Litterati, SeeClickFix and others “to do CleanApp” whenever you’re out and about and we’ll do everything we can do on our end to make sure that these different apps can speak to one another;

5YO: What do you mean?

CA: Well, right now, all these different apps are built on different building blocks, and there’s no clear way for them to work together, and our job at CleanApp is to get everyone to see the value of joining forces just in terms of speaking the same data language.  When we can speak to one another, we can understand one another. When we understand one another, we can work together better.  That allows us to help the penguins faster and it helps us to get cleaner playgrounds faster.

5YO: Can grownups do CleanApp too, or is it just for kids and playgrounds?

CA: Grownups can totally do CleanApp, and many grownups are already doing a lot of CleanApp, even if they don’t realize that’s what they’re doing.

5YO: Wow! You can CleanApp without knowing you’re CleanApping?

CA: Yeah, there are a lot of people using Twitter or Facebook to send CleanApp-type reports. Everyone realizes that we’re all better off when we share information about hazards with as many people as possible.  Just think about what happens when your momma drops you off at pre-K and heads into work.


You wouldn’t want her to get hurt at work, and she definitely doesn’t want to get hurt on the way to work or at work, because that means less time spent playing with you and your little brother.

5YO: Yeah, I love my momma. I don’t ever want her to be hurt.

CA: We love our friends and families too, which is why it’s so important to make our environments cleaner and safer for them.  So at work, here’s how your mom and dad can CleanApp:

  • They can use their Twitter and Facebook or Slack and whatnot to send reports about dangerous conditions, but right now, even though many people know they can send CleanApp reports like this, they don’t because they may be afraid of getting their friends in trouble or getting themselves into trouble at work for having Twitter open.
  • But imagine if your mommy or daddy could do CleanApp without getting in trouble, and if their work encouraged them to CleanApp as often as necessary. That would make for a safer and cleaner workplace, and happier mommy and daddy when they come home!
  • Your parents can use these things called smartglasses and what’s known as Augmented Reality (AR) to generate CleanApp reports in a workplace (e.g., report about spilled coffee, dirty workrooms, dirt on the factory floor or on things–like rocket engines–that are being manufactured) — and all those actions can be described as CleanApp actions and they should be welcomed by workplaces all around the world because they result in cleaner and safer working conditions, which makes everyone better off;

5YO: What’s a rocket engine?

CA: Hmmm, we’ll need to come back to that after you’ve had some elementary school physics, but let’s see … hmmmm … remember your brother’s stinky farts, a rocket engine works on the same principle.  Think of it like an airplane or a spaceship farting.  Except it’s farting so much that it’s actually strong enough to make the spaceship fly!

5YO: Can I do rocket farts?

CA: Oh, no, what have we done!  Hmm, let’s go back to how grownups can do CleanApp. So, you know how your parents are always scrambling to leave the house and you’re always running late, because your parents are673E0BCB-5852-4812-A6AA-57B83B3E4E9B trying to get their things off the floor so that Roomba can vacuum without getting tangled on your socks … and then your mom and your dad stub their toe on something after stepping on your toys, … and they say some bad word that they then ask you to forget … and you have to sit there in the car uncomfortably because all you want to do is say that bad word that your parents taught you, …. but you know that you can’t because your mom or dad will get angry, …. and so you save the bad word for school, and …. then you get in trouble from your teachers for using it?

5YO: Yeah, that’s like, every morning!

CA: So imagine if there was a magic wand that you had–little 5 year old YOU–and your parents had to tell that Roomba what to CleanApp, and what not to CleanApp after you all leave the house?!  It would save a lot of stubbed toes, and give you all a lot more time to do the things you need to get done, wouldn’t it.

Image result for stubbed toe memeNow, imagine being able to ask Siri, Google, or Alexa to “CleanApp the bathroom …” as your family’s getting ready to leave the house.  Or hearing your mom say, “don’t CleanApp this area” as she waves her hand in a circle around a spot on the floor she want to be touched because you all ran out of time to put the socks away, but you still want your Roomba to vacuum everywhere else.  That’s called  CleanApping = signaling a particular intent to a digital assistant platform that can then process that intent and determine whether there is a suitable response mechanism available to perform the desired action (like AmazonVesta going into the bathroom to actually do cleaning chores);

5YO: Wow!  So, with CleanApp, I don’t have to do any more chores?

CA: Not exactly, even after we get more and more robots that can respond to CleanApp reports at home, at your parents work, and outdoors, we’ll still need a lot of time and effort to teach them how to understand our requests, our intentions, and what to do with particular pieces of trash.  Just like we had to be taughimg_0018t how to sort paper from plastic from metal prior to throwing paper into the paper recycling bin and plastic into the plastic recycling bin and metal into the metal recycling bin, so too with robots.  More and more, your job will be teaching the robots and helping us come up with even smarter robots so that we CleanApp our planet faster.

5YO: But I don’t know anything about robots.

CA: That’s ok, friends of ours like @RobotMissions and others are teaching the world how to build Trashformers by 3D-printing them, so that soon, you’d be able to build your very own Trashformer, and start teaching it how to help you with chores. And the coolest thing is that teaching your Trashformer how to CleanApp around the house helps us get better tools for cleaning up Antarctica and better tools for our big World Cleanup Day parties.


5YO: Trashformers!!!!!!!!!!

CA: Trashformers, activate!!!!

5YO: I want a Trashformer!!!!!

CA: We love Trashformers too! And anothe thing that our friends like @RobotGrrl are doing is showing that we can have many different types of Trashformers for different needs, like underwater submarine Trashformers, and drone Trashformers, and beach Trashformers–so that we don’t get stuck with just one model thinking that that’s the best we can do.  Our job is to always improve, because we’re seeing more and more litter finding its way into the environment.

So very soon, our goal is to have Trashformer Olympics, where teams of all ages from all over the world compete for who has the best litter-picking robot for particular types of litter. There are so many different categories to play in because there are so many different types of trash floating around out there.  So everyone will be able to work together and also work in teams to see how we can CleanApp our planet even better and better.

5YO: Wow! Olympics? Can kids compete too?

CA: Absolutely, yes! Kids will be able to pilot the robots and teach them how to tell the difference between trash and not trash. Because no matter how smart computers and robots get, they’ll never be as smart as you in telling the difference between what belongs in nature and what’s litter.

5YO: Really?

CA: Yeah, really. That’s why it’s so important for you to get involved and tell all your friends about CleanApp!

5YO: I will. How else can I help?

CA: Awww… you’re great! You can also ask your parents and your teachers to sign our petition urging Google to activate CleanApp — which will make this the easiest way to report litter and hazards for billions of people worldwide!

5YO: Will do, CleanApp!  I gotta run now, cause I have to go CleanApp and train my future Trashformer!

CA: We love you, kiddo! Be safe out there, and remember: (1) Recycle, Reduce, Reuse; (2) World Cleanup Day is September 15th; (3) whatever the platform, just CleanApp!