Chief Science Correspondent
It's always the same formula. Grinning at the camera, she expresses gratitude for being nominated, explaining that she is posting this video for ALS awareness. She lists off three friends who she nominates for the challenge, telling them they have 24 hours.
Then, she dumps a large bucket of ice-cold water on her head.
The Ice Bucket Challenge has completely consumed the internet over the past several weeks, with a reported 1.2 million challenge videos uploaded to Facebook alone. Even celebrities such as Oprah Winfrey, Bill Gates and Justin Timberlake have posted videos of themselves in the act. The premise of this challenge is that if the nominated individuals do not complete the ice-dumping, they are asked to donate $100 to the ALS Association. Alternatively, some users have opted to donate after participating in the challenge.
Critics of the challenge point out what they believe to be the questionable foundation of this well-intended movement; users dump water on their heads to avoid feeling guilty about not contributing to a charity. Defenders will point to the fact that the Ice Bucket Challenge has proven effective; the Foundation has received over $11.4 million in donations since July 29.
Besides raising money, a goal of the Ice Bucket Challenge is to raise awareness about amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, a motor neuron disease that completely attacks its victims' control over their own bodies. I found the timing of this trend a bit ironic, as I recently wrote about an upcoming movie portraying brilliant cosmologist Stephen Hawking, who happens to live with a related motor neuron disease.
Actually, my first recollection of hearing about my ALS (also commonly known as Lou Gehrig's Disease) was about two years ago, when the disease was referenced in Seth McFarlane's 2012 movie Ted. In an effort to protect his girlfriend from her condescending boss' sexual advances, John (played by Mark Wahlberg) says, "As one gentleman to another, I just want to say I really hope you f****** get Lou Gehrig's Disease." At the movie's conclusion, the narrator notes that the man in question does develop and die from Lou Gehrig's Disease.
At least the Ice Bucket Challenge is a bit more sensitive in its attitude towards ALS.
The Ice Bucket Challenge does something that I completely support; it utilizes social media to communicate world issues to a younger audience. Think Kony 2012 and Occupy Wall Street. And these movements, while fleeting, do sometimes prompt a real-world impact that goes beyond "shares" and "likes."
Yet I can't help but find this challenge repulsive. ALS is terrible. ALS awareness is great. Donating money to support ALS research is even better.
But why exactly do we need to dump buckets of ice-cold water on our heads to promote the movement? Over one million people have participated in this challenge. That means that millions of gallons of water have been poured out into people's yards this summer, solely for the purpose of uploading an internet activism video.
Wasting water is not something I normally make a point of criticizing others for; while I know it's a major problem, I recognize that waste is an inherent part of American culture and I know that I am an offender of the crime myself. And considering how much water goes to waste in the world on a daily basis, these few million gallons might not make a significant impact.
But think how hypocritical these charity videos might look to a child in Africa who never gets quite enough water to drink every day. Think of how that huge bucket of ice-cold water looks to him. Think how he might feel seeing that bucket of water thrown onto the ground, all in the name of activism. As a closer-to-home example, California is currently in the middle of one of the largest droughts since 1977.
The water dumping just seems so... pointless.
If you have chosen to participate in the Ice Bucket Challenge, please do not regard this as a personal criticism. Ultimately, I believe this movement speaks to a larger cultural phenomenon in how our generation views activism.
If you have a cause you think is important, by all means use social media as a platform to promote it. And if you can find a unique way to make the cause go viral, even better. But perhaps we should make sure we are promoting these worthy causes in ways that don't cloud their original missions.
Photo credit: http://www.golfchannel.com/news/grill-room/girls-just-wanna-join-fun-wie-part-ice-bucket-challenge/