While there’s nothing inherently good about catching coronavirus, the major shift around sanitation could be considered a silver lining amid the chaos. In terms of actionable measures that can be taken as a form of infection prevention, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends “frequent hand washing, staying home when sick, and covering coughs and sneezes.”
You’d think that people would be singing “Happy Birthday” in unison at the sinks within the confined space of a public restroom (similar to animals in the wild at a watering hole), but the truth is that most of us don’t even wash our hands for the strongly suggested 20 seconds. B4 Brands claims that less than 75 percent of women and 50 percent of men wash their hands after using the toilet. The possibility of cross contamination shouldn’t be so shocking when there are people who will continue to make questionable cleaning choices and live in filth, but we digress.
According to a 2013 report from CBS News, 95 percent of people wash their hands incorrectly. The average person spends somewhere between six and 10 seconds washing their hands. (A recent study conducted by the U.S. Department of Agriculture in 2018 showed roughly the same results which is relatively concerning considering how five years passed.)
Over the weekend, a 17-year-old named William Gibson launched a website called Wash Your Lyrics for people to “generate handwashing infographics based on your favorite song lyrics.” Gibson is an aspiring full-stack developer, designer, and engineer based in the U.K. where he studies computing. It only took him 24 hours to develop the meme generator, and since then, there have been 89,527 downloads of the PSA poster. The top tracks downloaded so far are Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody” (1008), Smash Mouth’s “All Star’ (619), Toto’s “Africa” (611), Rick Astley’s “Never Gonna Give You Up” (610), Rage Against the Machine’s “Killing in the Name” (447), and Britney Spears’ “Toxic” (425).
We recently spoke to Gibson over email to find out his full thought process behind producing the sick generator and why he wanted to get involved in the public discourse around personal hygiene. Scroll down for the entire conversation.
Tell me about your background in computer programming and software design. What was your entry point into this field?
I started off trying to make Minecraft mods back when I was nine, it sounds so stupid, but it’s true! Nothing I did worked. It got to the point where I tried writing what I think would work (e.g. make a player have 100 diamonds), but it just came up as red lines and errors. Eventually, I got into web development, which I experimented with for a couple years. In 2017 I learned iOS app development and created a little looping video app in the death of Vine. Nothing I did really popped off until last year when a service me and my friends used to use called Rabb.it, which let you stream Netflix, YouTube, and the whole internet with your friends, closed down due to investor funding falling through.
I tried to create my own version called Cryb, which went viral as an announcement within the Discord/Rabb.it community, but I wasn’t able to actually launch it because it wasn’t affordable from my point of view — I was looking at bills of upwards of $100,000 a month with no way to receive money from users due to legality issues — so I open-sourced it and left the project in February. It caused me a lot of burnout. Wash Your Lyrics is actually the first project I’ve made since then.
How did you come up with the idea for the Wash Your Lyrics generator?
I actually saw a post on Tumblr, which was the hand washing meme, but the captions were replaced with the lyrics from “money machine” by 100 gecs. I reposted it onto the 100 gecs boofposting Facebook group where it received 50 likes. I wanted to make more memes in this format, but I could tell copy and pasting lyrics into Photoshop was going to be incredibly boring, so I decided to use my skills to automate the entire process and turn it into a web app.
What were you hoping to achieve with this meme generator? Did you expect it to go viral?
More or less, I just wanted a way to create these memes quickly. At the moment COVID-19 is a huge topic with the recent outbreak, and the idea of washing your hands regularly is being rightfully pushed, so it’s also me partly wanting to make that more fun.
It sounds a little wrong, but I kind of get a feel for when projects I make have potential to go viral before I launch them. I knew Cryb was going to be popular from the day I had a working demo, and I knew Wash Your Lyrics was going to be popular, but with both projects, my idea of “popular” was totally overshadowed with how well they actually performed.
Why do you think hand-washing instructions presented in this format resonates with so many people online?
I’m not sure, I think it’s up to how well each lyric fits with each instruction. I thought I would have to do so much more work in terms of getting the word to instruction ratio right for each caption, but when I had the prototype that used a lyric per caption it worked so well I didn’t need to do any adjustments there.
How have you been feeling about all the buzz around the generator?
It’s a little scary. I’m new to having lots of traction to my projects, so trying to make sure the server doesn’t overload is my main priority right now. I’m happy people are enjoying it, though, and if people are washing their hands more then it’s totally worth it.
What are some of your favorite infographics that have been generated so far?
I saw someone made “Call Me Maybe” by Carly Rae Jepsen, which worked really well, and someone I follow on Instagram did Tequila where the only caption was “Tequila!” which I thought was pretty funny. From the ones I’ve generated personally, my favorites to go to are “popular” by umru, “Thos Moser” by Gupi & Fraxiom, “hand crushed by a mallet” by 100 gecs and “Click” by Charli XCX.
How is the coronavirus outbreak affecting your daily life?
Currently, it’s not. I still take the bus to college, and I’m in the low-risk factor zone in terms of my personal health. I’ve been following the coverage closely and hoping, like everyone else, that it’s contained soon.
What song usually comes to mind while you’re washing your hands?
“Happy Birthday,” until two days ago!
Do you have anything else in the works right now?
Not currently, but I have a ton of ideas that I want to eventually do. But with the popularity of this, I might focus more on smaller projects that are topically relevant instead of long, drawn-out projects that take months to develop like Cryb. This seems to be a lot more rewarding and the risk level of it not working are lower. I think Tom Scott’s infographic from “That Time In Trouble With The Government” sums it up pretty well.
What are some of your career goals?
I really want to try and work for myself; I’m not the best at building apps or projects for other people as I like being able to do my own ideas and, even if it isn’t healthy, having end-to-end control when it comes to absolutely everything, from logo design to text formatting. I will still probably look for some sort of career in the future, but I think running my own software company or app startup is the end goal!
Do you see a viral moment like this leading to any professional opportunities or giving you any sort of edge in your industry?
For sure, I met with an engineer who works at a large media publication here in the UK through my college tutor, and he was really impressed with my work on Cryb and the technologies I use. I’m hoping to go there for an apprenticeship once my college course has finished instead of going to University, which is not my thing at all. If not, then I’ll probably take a year to make more apps like Wash Your Lyrics and see what works and what doesn’t and go from there.