O ne of my goals for this summer was to cure my addiction to the professional procrastinating website Buzzfeed. It was a futile but well-intentioned attempt to increase my productivity this semester.
But who needs Buzzfeed? Instead, I can just refresh my Facebook newsfeed to find endless 30-second videos of my friends dumping ice on themselves.
The ALS Ice Bucket Challenge, as it has been named, is an Internet phenomenon that has spread throughout the country in the last few weeks. The stunt aims to raise awareness for amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, also called Lou Gehrig’s disease . After being nominated by a friend to participate in the challenge, people pour ice and water on their heads, post the videos and name three to five more people to do the challenge within 24 hours.
You may be wondering how ice relates in any way to the fatal disease, which causes muscle degeneration and paralysis. I honestly have no idea. In fact, when the trend first began to spread, I dismissed it as yet another example of social media-fueled “slacktivism.”
Our generation seems especially keen on posting statuses or pictures that purport to raise awareness for a given cause. Remember when everyone changed their profile picture to a giant equal sign to signify support for gay rights? It was an inspired movement that I fully support; however, such measures do little or nothing to actually help their cause.
This slacktivism has in part fueled older generations’ disdain of the millennials and their wish for the days of student-led protests for civil rights, against involvement in Vietnam and the like.
I’m certainly just as guilty as many others of patting myself on the back for supposedly fighting for justice. I’ve signed several petitions on change.org, and I continue to get emails from the website. However, change.org is a for-profit site, and it indiscriminately accepts sponsorship and advertisements from organizations that often don’t support the progress that petitioners seek. No real social activists sit at computers all day mindlessly scrolling through change.org.
The good news is that the Ice Bucket Challenge isn’t just another well-intentioned but ultimately misdirected trend. Variations of the challenge include donating $100 if you fail to complete it on time, donating $5 each time someone you nominated accepts it and donating $10 after doing the challenge. In their videos, people often encourage others to donate to and research more about the ALS Association.
Internet trends pop up all the time. There is an important line to draw between those that stop short of catalyzing a larger, more impactful movement — like changing one’s profile picture — and those that do.
The most obvious indicator as to where the Ice Bucket Challenge falls lies in its results. The ALS Association reported $88.5 million in donations between July 29 and August 26 this year, up from only $2.6 million in that four-week period last year. The outpouring of support includes at least 70,000 first-time donors. ALS Association President and CEO Barbara Newhouse explained that the newfound attention and increased awareness of this lesser-known disease are just as valuable as the donations.
As with so many other phenomena, celebrities and politicians have begun to participate in the challenge, giving it even more attention. Jimmy Fallon and the Roots simultaneously poured ice water on themselves in a segment of “The Tonight Show” and then nominated the entire New York Jets team. Bill Gates released a video displaying the contraption heinvented to dump a bucket on himself and nominated Elon Musk, Ryan Seacrest and Chris Anderson of TED.
So maybe there’s hope for our technology-addicted generation after all. We may not be marching in the streets, but after all, things have changed since 1960, and we have evolved as well. Maybe all you really need to support research for an important cause is a bucket of ice.
While I have yet to be nominated for the Ice Bucket Challenge, I suspect I’ll have my turn to do so before long. I will join everyone from Justin Timberlake to Mark Zuckerberg to Gov. Chris Christie in this show of support for ALS. I will run around and scream about how cold I am.
And then I will donate to the ALS Association and nominate a few more friends to join the cause.