Doing the ALS Hypothermia Challenge

I did the ALS ice bucket challenge this afternoon, having been challenged by the lovely but cruel Nikki Stafford. And, while this sort of thing isn’t really in this blog’s bailiwick, having a bucket of ice water poured over my head on a cold and rainy Newfoundland afternoon makes me inclined to think I have a few words worth saying about the whole thing.

There has been, predictably, an awful lot of hate and contrarianism directed at the ice bucket challenge, which of course began the moment it became obvious this thing was a THING. And I must confess I understand the initial instinct: suddenly, one’s Facebook feed is full of videos of people dumping ice water over their heads, all for a disease that doesn’t tend to get much mention in mainstream discourse. I will confess, I knew the acronym ALS and I knew of Lou Gehrig’s Disease, but it was only recently I realized they were one and the same.

I’m also generally unimpressed with slacktivism and its close cousin hashtag activism. But the ALS challenge is, in my opinion, where social media gets this process right. Here’s why:

  1. Whatever the naysayers might say, it has actually succeeded in raising a significant amount of money. I mean, a LOT. I won’t quote numbers because they keep changing, but it is evident that we’re now in the tens of millions—not a paltry sum for any disease research.
  2. Yes, it’s now trendy. And there are, undoubtedly, huge numbers of people who are putting themselves on Facebook and YouTube because it’s the cool thing to do, all their friends are doing it, and it makes you look altruistic. And there are probably a lot of people posting who aren’t actually donating. Guess what? The charities don’t care. If charities limited their donations to people who actually cared, as opposed to seeking a tax deduction or wanting to look good in their social circles, they’d probably have to close up shop.
  3. As much as the whole idea of raising “awareness” on issues has become risible—the essence, really, of slacktivism—the ice bucket challenge has been quite effective in actually doing just that, both because of its proliferation throughout social media and the way in which it makes participants have some skin in the game (I wasn’t about to dump ice water over my head without doing some reading first). So: both an awful lot of money, and an awful lot of people more informed about a terrible disease. Not so bad, at the end of the day.
  4. As for the meme about wasting water while children in Africa go thirsty: seriously, grow up. When you can figure out a way for me to cheaply courier my ice water to those children, let me know; otherwise, recognize that different geographies mean different realities. And that we can be charitable to more than one cause.
  5. Ditto for those irked that the ALS challenge apparently distracts from Gaza, Ferguson, Ukraine, or any of the other horror stories at play in the world. Can we allow that we can be aware of all these other issues AND still want to dump ice water on ourselves? This isn’t a zero sum game.

One of the things I’ve enjoyed about the ice bucket challenge is that it has spurred a certain amount of creativity. I leave you with my three favourite videos, two of whom are celebrities, and one who really deserves to be: Neil Gaiman, Patrick Stewart, and my good friend Andrew Patterson.

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