The #icebucketchallenge is the viral social media event of the year, and unless you’ve been hiding under a rock these past few weeks, you’ve probably seen countless videos in your news feeds or read about it online, in the paper or on TV news.
I succumbed last Sunday. My kids enjoyed the set up and execution, and one of the three people I challenged completed it within 24 hours. I’d first noticed it a week or so ago and now it’s reached saturation. The US charity that benefits has had $100million in donations in a month, more than twice what it raises in a normal year. Last week the UK charity’s website had more hits to its web site in one day last week than it receives in a year.
Along with the fun and good cause came the inevitable criticisms – of wasting fresh water, high % of donations going to admin, the narcissistic show-offs and icebucketchallenge fails. One of the founders of the challenge actually died (in an unrelated diving incident) earlier this month. He had started the whole thing to raise awareness and donations for a 20 year old friend who had just been diagnosed.
Motor neuron disease (which is also referred to amyotrophic lateral sclerosis or ALS, sometimes Lou Gehrig’s disease) is a particularly nasty and progressive muscle wasting disorder for which there is no known cure, and usually leads to death inside three to five years. I have known 2 former colleagues who succumbed to MND, and the pain and anguish of their loved ones was terrible to bear as they saw these fine people literally waste away. Steven Hawking is one of the most famous people afflicted. He is one of the 4% that last over 10 years – he has lived over 50 years with it having been told he had 2 years at best. He (of course) also did the challenge.
While the repetitive challenges across social media (amusing at first) might be wearing thin for some, and be annoying for others, there is no doubt that a huge increase in awareness regarding this terrible disease has resulted, plus extra millions has been raised. This has to be good. Yes, some people do the challenge to show off, but the whole idea of the challenge had this at its centre, and is why it went viral. It included video (so easy to do now on your phone, click, up it goes to facebook or instagram) and the chain-mail letter idea of challenging 3 others meant it mushroomed. It also brought the world together a little bit – I’ve watched challenges of rock stars, politicians and adults and kids from all over the world. I’ve seen school and Uni friends I’ve not seen in decades do it, friends of friends and others.
The challenge has resulted in various forms of humblebragging (people trying to act humble but showing off – it is public after all), jealousy (people decrying the whole thing with aloof protest) and not a little creativity (my favourite being India’s rice bucket challenge, where Indians give poor people a bucket of rice and challenge others to do likewise).
Making this all possible of course is social media; none of the this would have happened without the connected world we live in; and for one thing, I prefer a connected world, to one where everyone is disengaged and removed.
Do the challenge or not; no skin off my nose – but all along, you can but marvel at its scope and power. If it helps find a cure for ALS, who are we to argue?
For more on ALS and to donate: http://alsa.org/