Month: September 2014

I’ve Reached my Cynical Melting Point (ALS Ice Bucket Challenge)

The way this spread across the social media (and physical space) is amazing. It spreads like a benevolent fungus, and but the transmission method is purely through relationships, boosted through social media.

(Interestingly, this same challenge could have been a more unknown trend twenty years ago, even with the same amount of spread among the population, since you wouldn’t be detecting the ambient splashes of your neighbors and friends as easily…)

It’s success has a lot to do with its positive narrative (donation to a worthy cause) and its inherent spectacle. Watching someone do this is automatic drama: what will happen next? How will they react? On top of this, it’s easy to do… an ice-cube tray and an ice-cream bucket was all I used.

People are against it, which is a natural response whenever something like this reaches a critical mass consciousness. I’m pretty cynical, but I have to say there’s not a lot of weak points in this sort of event. Even if people are doing it for the ‘wrong reasons’, such as gaining attention or following a trend, or if there are more deadly or widespread diseases to fight (thereby making ALS the ‘wrong disease’) it doesn’t take away that millions have been raised, and are still being raised, through this philanthropy virus that you catch from your friends.

The act of pouring ice-cold water over your head is an intense experience. Knowing that you’re doing it as part of a cultural event makes it almost like a rite of passage. (Or less charitably, a hazing ritual.) You will not anticipate exactly how cold that water is until you do it, and having done it, you will have passed through a liminal state, not unlike the freezing point of water. Maybe your resolve will harden, or your cynicism will melt, depending on which way you want to take the metaphor.

I’ve been seeing a lot of people online who seem to define themselves through negatives, through what they hate or oppose. There is something inherently optimistic about defining yourself as being part of something, especially something that isn’t complicated. And having participated in something thousands or even millions of others have done makes me feel like I’m truly participating in humanity, both locally and long-range. When I see friends, celebrities, and strangers participate, I feel like we’re all in the same club, without a lot of the baggage that these memberships often claim.