If somebody dumps a bucket of ice over his head in a forest and posts nothing about it on social media, does it still benefit ALS?
Well, obviously not. But this is a dumb question. The whole point of the Ice Bucket Challenge currently lighting up social media, after all, is not that it directly benefits ALS but that it raises awareness.
Awareness is a wonderful crop. You can raise it with almost no effort on your part whatsoever. Buy certain shoes. Buy a wristband. Wear the wrong color during the wrong month and you may find that you’re raising awareness of Black Lung — without even meaning to.
Here’s a slightly better question.
If I give $50 to ALS research but none of my friends hears about it on social media, why should I bother?
They used to encourage you to keep your charity quiet and not let your left hand know what your right hand was doing. But that was before things could go really viral.
Maybe this is sour grapes because no one has challenged me to dump a bucket of ice water over my head. Maybe I’m bitter. After all, the ALS challenge combines everything that I most enjoy: going viral, getting “nominated” for things, and the vague feeling that I might be doing good without having to spend any of my time or money.
And this could be a trend. I recently received a text telling me that I had 24 hours to do something socially viral to benefit ASL. (I didn’t think American Sign Language needed any assistance from me, but I have been wrong before.) Next I’ll be getting the A/S/L challenge, where you have to go into a chatroom circa 1999 and lie.
I nominate you to take the CHALLENGE CHALLENGE. This is where you record yourself doing something wacky and/or uncomfortable that is maybe, maybe tangentially related to the cause of your choice, insist that it is to “raise awareness” and see how many of your friends you can get to go along with it. Let’s see how far we can go. Remember: first, do no harm. No “Frighten A Child For Septicemia Awareness.”
Some examples could include:
• The Halitosis Subway Challenge: To raise awareness of halitosis, mouth-breathe way too close to someone on the subway. Record video. Announce that you are “raising halitosis awareness.” You might be without even meaning to.
• The Gum Health Dance Challenge: Pop, Lock and Drop It while shouting “REMEMBER TO FLOSS!” or “Keep it flossy!” or something hipper.
• Stop, Drop and Roll for Fire Safety Awareness: This actually makes sense. I advise against it.
• The Dubstep Polio Challenge: Blast dubstep from speakers on the subway. Shout out “DON’T FORGET TO VACCINATE YOUR KIDS!” during the drop so it’s impossible to hear what you’re saying.
• The Poke An Old Lady For Vaccination Awareness Challenge: Gently poke an old woman. Explain that this is for vaccination awareness. Record this on camera or post a written account on social media.
• Imagine A Dragon for Hypothyroidism: Imagine a dragon. Record yourself doing so. Tag all your friends. Get the word out.
• Take A Picture Of Yourself Holding A Blank Sign For Cyberbullying Awareness: See what people photoshop on you! Learn a lot!
• Alarm A Deli Worker For Hypertension Awareness: First, ask, “Do you have hypertension?” If the answer is no, frighten and/or alarm the employee in question. If the answer is yes, apologize and save this for another time, when it’s safer.
• The Ann Coulter Video Greetings Measles Challenge: Send Ann Coulter a video greeting. Don’t mention measles. Tweet it to her with the hashtag “#measlesawareness.”
In general, I have problems with awareness. You only have so much time and so many arms and a fixed amount of money. You can spend that time and those arms and that money dumping ice on your head (for ALS awareness) and donning armbands (for Everything Awareness) and jogging around in circles (to remind people of their kidneys) and buying Pink Doodads (for breast cancer awareness or gender awareness, depending). Or you can do something.
Then again, what’s the harm in it?
Look at what’s happened since the ALS Ice Bucket challenge began! Donations are actually up. So maybe it’s doing more good than we thought. And compared to the Great Pinkification of Everything for Breast Cancer (get this water bottle with carcinogenic chemicals! Fight cancer, kind of!) it’s thoughtfulness itself.
There’s nothing with awareness, per se, as long as you realize that that’s all it is. But at a certain point you have to cross from awareness into action (usually, in the form of putting your money or your vote where your armband/ice bucket/hashtag is), and that’s the tricky part. The reason this feels like it’s succeeding is that some people have done so. But that’s not guaranteed.
Some awareness-raising is, in itself, a form of action. For instance, raising awareness of this dangerous thought experiment basilisk.
But the ALS challenge isn’t that. If you want to make a real difference, donate here! A lot of people have. That’s what really counts.