The Ice Bucket Challenge

Events, Opinions Posted Jul 31, 2014 by chenpr

When I was younger, we used to receive chain letters in the mail. In school we would receive letters from other students here and abroad, and at home we often saw letters that appeared to be scams, or get rich quick schemes. With them always came a certain amount of pressure, mild annoyance, and (depending on the subject matter) a pang of guilt for each one ignored. As technology progressed, such chain letters moved into email and social form, but still relied on the same greed, guilt or the need for social inclusion to create a viral success – or maliciously plant a virus.

But a recent take on the chain letter caught my attention, and in contrast to the aforementioned examples, the new version seems to actually serve an admirable purpose. An “Ice Bucket Challenge,” started by a family in New York, is generating buzz in social media and raising money for the disease Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), more commonly referred to as Lou Gehrig’s disease. The premise is a variation on the chain letter: a person douses themselves with a bucket of ice water, capturing the event on video, and challenges three friends to do the same. The friends must then either complete the challenge (and in the process challenge three more friends) or donate money to ALS research. Most participants do both.

I was on Facebook recently and saw my own friends participating in the “Ice Bucket Challenge,” posting their videos and challenging three Facebook friends to compete. And it appears that a number of celebrities are also partaking and extending the challenge to other charities. Earlier this month, The Today Show’s Matt Lauer accepted the challenge from former professional golfer Greg Norman. He had a bucket of ice water dumped on his head on the air, and called out Brian Williams, Martha Stewart and Howard Stern to complete the challenge or donate to the Hospice of Palm Beach County Foundation.

While I’ve never been a fan of the social guilt trip (nor have I been challenged yet!), this appears Matt-Lauer-ice-bucket-anchorto be overtly positive. Fundraising for charity and disease is an important and oftentimes difficult, uncomfortable task. The “Ice Bucket Challenge” is a fun, simple way to go about doing it, and has certainly been successful thus far in its worthy cause. We continue to witness the growing power of social media, and I hope that this edition remains positive and light hearted in nature.