Cold water for a cause

Jam of the Week: “Helplessness Blues” by Fleet Foxes

If you’ve visited a humble, little place called the internet lately, you’ve probably seen videos of people from celebrities to friends and family performing the “ice bucket challenge.” If you haven’t, it’s a fairly odd idea that’s helped raise millions of dollars for charity.

Basically, people are challenged to either donate $100 to ALS, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, research or dump a large amount of ice-water on their head while being filmed. When someone chooses the latter option, sometimes donating anyway, they also name others to take the challenge. ALS is also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease.

Apparently, this challenge existed before it became a fundraiser. Time Magazine reported in an article published on Monday that the idea of dumping a bucket of ice-water on one’s head and challenging others to do the same was first tied to raising money to fight ALS on July 15.

Why people would dump ice-water on their heads without a good reason is a bit baffling. Still, it’s less harmful than the cinnamon challenge, where participants are tasked with swallowing a spoonful of cinnamon in under a minute without drinking anything, or the fire challenge, where people light themselves on fire while being recorded.

Despite the unusual history of these internet challenges, people started taking to the ice bucket challenge fairly quickly when it was tied to ALS. As each participant challenges several other people, each video spreads the campaign further. I cringe slightly at the use of the word “viral,” but I can’t come up with a better way to describe it.

Recently, the challenge has spread wide and far. One ALS advocate group, the ALS Association, announced on Tuesday that the challenge had brought in $22.9 million in donations. Other groups, such as Project ALS and ALS TDI, have also reported a huge spike in donations due to the challenge.

However, the campaign has not become popular without criticism. When I first heard about the challenge, I was skeptical due to the nature of online awareness campaigns. Invisible Children raised a fair amount of awareness through the Kony 2012 campaign. A half-hour Youtube video produced by the group that kicked off the campaign currently sits at just under 100 million views. Still, Joseph Kony has not yet faced trial for alleged war crimes.

Of course, one instance isn’t enough to prove that awareness campaigns on the internet are useless. Still, I don’t think simply sharing a video or image on social media is going to create real change. That comes from putting time and money into those things. Despite my skepticism, I can’t argue with the results that the challenge has produced. People have given millions to fight this disease and will likely continue to do so while the challenge is popular.

Another interesting criticism I found on social media is the idea that the challenge is simply wasteful. A Facebook comment I read said that wasting several gallons of fresh water for every one of these videos is obscene when parts of the world have little to no access to clean drinking water. I think it’s a valid criticism. The world would probably be a better place if it didn’t take such a spectacle to pique the public’s interest in fighting a disease.

I don’t think it’s my place to tell you if this challenge is a good or a bad thing. I can tell you that I don’t think it, or many things in life, boils down to such simple labels. I can tell you that giving money or time to things you care about is important and always will be no matter what’s hot, or cold in this instance, at the moment.

I was recently challenged by a friend myself. Since I’m not one to say no to a bit of refreshing cold on a summer day, I’ll be participating soon. Keep an eye out, you might be one of the people I challenge.