Sunday, August 31, 2014

Tricks and treats -- the Ice Bucket Challenge

My father died from Lou Gehrig’s disease (more formally known in the US as amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or ALS) and I’ve supported the ALS Association to the extent I could for many years. Just now my wife and I made a donation that was partly the result of the Ice Bucket Challenge – my daughter and two of her friends doused each other, though fortunately they didn’t require us to do that! Making the donation led me to the ALS Association’s thank you page, which reports that “because of you, we’ve raised an incredible $100.9 million nationwide from over three million donors in only 32 days!”

This really is quite remarkable. ALS is not a “big” disease – nor would I wish it on more people to make it one – and the result is that funding for its research and treatment is much more limited than in the case of some other illnesses. The Ice Bucket Challenge has dramatically increased ALS fundraising – and done so even though by its terms the challenge gives you the choice to immerse yourself with cold water OR give money. Not both at the same time! But apparently people who do get dunked also give money, and so do any number of other people, no doubt including both people who are directly “challenged” by the dunk-ees and others who, like us, are just inspired.

So apparently humans are the sort of people who can find themselves gripped by a viral internet campaign that doesn’t make much sense but somehow combines good deeds with thrills. We’re also the sort of people, apparently, who are turning online gaming into a major spectator sport – not to mention the sort of people for whom a college’s football success can significantly increase applications for admission. (And these are more or less harmless; not everything about us is equally benign.) It’s a bit crazy to be part of this kind of a species, but … it’s the only species we’ve got!

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