Is the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge Wasteful? Selfish? Pointless?

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Saturday, August 23rd, 2014, 12:29am
Categories: Mouth Diarrhea

Hello friends,

I'm sure by now most of you have heard of the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge. If you haven't yet, its basically a silly silly viral thing going around right now, where people challenge each other to pouring buckets of ice cold water on top of their heads. If challenged, you're faced with the choice of donating $100 to an ALS organization, or dumping that ice water on your head (and possibly donating anyway if you can).

As with anything that garners a large audience, the challenge has been receiving lots of criticism lately, with people bringing up many concerns. I believe most of these concerns are misconceptions, and I'd like to take a moment to explain why I think the ice bucket challenge is worthy of participation, with a few rebuttals to common arguments below.

It's a waste of water


This is the most common complaint I hear, and on the surface sounds valid. However after doing some hunting, I discovered the challenge actually accounts for a teeny tiny amount of the water we use as a nation. There have been reports of the ice bucket challenge using up around 5 million gallons of water so far. That does sound huge! But then I found out (according to one article I found), Americans use about 37.5 billion gallons per day. That means the challenge accounts for less than 0.01% of our total water usage. That's really small! In fact, even the EPA is behind the challenge in light of all the good it does compared to how little water it actually uses.

And what does it really mean to "waste" water? I feel like its a bit of tunnel vision to say that if you're not using water for drinking, washing, etc, then its being wasted. However, the water is being put to use in a different way. You use water to generate awareness and donations ... that doesn't seem like a waste to me. The world is full of many weird/odd situations where [using some thing] [causes some desired outcome]. Think outside the box!

There's also a question of priorities. We're raising tons of money for ALS research/care, which is doing a lot of good. At the same time, we can all save much more water by simply skipping a carwash day, not watering your driveway, turning off the faucet while you shave, turning off the shower while you lather for even one minute, and so many more things that would save more water than not doing the challenge. Not to mention the challenge is a one time thing, whereas bringing awareness to ways you can save water (like I just did here, haha) in a more permanent way can save more in the long run. So... in a way, the challenge is actually saving water ... HA.

Plus, you can always do the challenge over your pool or lawn, or in some situation where the water would be used or recaptured after it splashed off your head. Then the "waste" is no waste at all :P

You're causing kids to die of thirst in Africa


I heard this from a dear friend, who I still love even after her saying this... but uhm... uhhhh

Last I heard, our reservoirs aren't connected to other countries... so I'm not sure that any waste on our end would actually take water away from other countries across the ocean. I mean, I could be wrong... and it does look bad. But I feel the needs of poorer countries are more complex; They need aid, jobs, economy, infrastructure, etc. One thing that probably isn't a need, is the need to not-see-us-wasting-our-water. Maybe it sucks to see people wasting water when you yourself need it desperately. I get that. But it still doesn't take it away.

No one donates; It doesn't work


This is something that a lot of people get confused about: The way numbers play out on large scales with very small rates of [conversions, donations, sales, etc]. We tend to think we can understand large numbers, but even what seems like a small amount of anything can be difficult to grasp. Most people, even geniuses, can't hold even 10 ideas in their head at the exact same time. Imagining 100 units of anything is too large for our little ape brains to even attempt. Imaging what 1,000 of something really means is almost impossible without comparing it relatively.

I think I'm driveling off track, so imagine this scenario: Say for every person who does the challenge, there's a 0.1% chance that person will actually donate. Shitty, right? 1 out of a 1,000. But if a million people did the challenge, that's 1,000,000*0.001 == 1,000 donations! It's the large scale of virality that turns what appears to be meaninglessly small numbers, into large, tangible results. And even then if every donater did say, $50, that would be $50,000.

Now think of it on a large scale again. $50,000 over a million challengers. If you divide that, you might almost say that each challenger is contributing about 5 cents to the cause. Obviously the actual donaters are making the "real" contribution, but since part of the process of reaching those donaters is to do the challenge without donating (or donating a smaller amount), it can be said that each challenger is part of the final amount of donations coming in, from a certain point of view.

And in this imaginary scenario, at a 0.01% donation rate, you probably wouldn't know anyone who donated. The average human can only hold a hundred or so "real" friendships, virtual or nonvirtual... in terms of being able to maintain a mental grasp on it. So imagine if we rounded it up to say that each human can hold 200 friendships at any given time. At a donation rate of 1 in 1,000 ... this would mean that one in five people would even have heard of anyone donating. Think about that. Not one in five people donating ... but one in five would even be aware of anyone they knew donating. Yet the system still brings in big money when applied to a large scale. It's crazy if you think about it.

It's like how nobody knows anyone who ever clicks on facebook ads... yet... the company is worth billions, from mostly ad revenue.

Also, go check out the actual numbers. According to what I've read, ALS donations are up 10x of what they were during the same period last year, as well as a clearly huge spike in website traffic during the last few weeks. The data is right there .... and the challenge works.

It's just an excuse for attention; It's sad


Yeah well... there's nothing wrong with wanting attention. We're all human. You show me someone who claims they don't want any attention for the things they do, and I'll show you someone who is bullshitting you hahaha. I even had someone try to debate me earlier this week, trying to claim she knew "several artists" who didn't do their art for the attention or benefits or anything... that they would be embarrassed to seek any kind of recognition. My obvious response was basically Uhhh and yet you know about these artists... so obviously they're seeking some level of recognition hahaha

I mean, we're all human. We all want to be loved, and be paid attention to, on some level. There is no crime in doing that. People spend so much time and energy already trying to get attention, such as with cool clothes, cars, personality, clubbin', random youtube videos, social media, etc etc. Is it really anything to even blink an eye at that someone gets attention by supporting a great cause?

I'm sure there are some people who don't understand that their small role, pouring ice on their heads in the hope someone will pay attention to them, is contributing to the greater cause of virality, and are actually simply just trying to get attention. I don't blame them; They're only human, and they're still helping.

You should just donate, and not do the challenge


Unfortunately this view can only happen when someone doesn't understand the nature of virality in this scenario. The reason the challenge spreads like wildfire is because it encourages people to have fun and seek attention without the mandate of donating. Like in the example I gave above with the small rate of donations, it takes lots and lots and lots of people "only having fun" before big money starts to come in. If you tell people to donate without doing the challenge, you stomp out the viral component, and it doesn't spread. Without all those people having fun, we wouldn't have raised all that money. It doesn't work both ways.

Conclusion


Well I hope I've made a good case here as to why the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge is a worthy cause, as will be other similarly silly viral campaigns in the future. Check out a video from someone closer to the cause than me: http://www.buzzfeed.com/maycie/this-father-with-als-doing-the-ice-bucket-challenge-with-his

And of course, I did my own :)



ALSA.org

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Mike Peralta is an independent musician and you should follow him on Twitter (@MikePeralta) and Instagram (@MikePeraltaMusic), then subscribe to his blog just a bit below this text!
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This entry has 2 comments
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Lauren
(Guest)
Thursday, September 4th, 2014, 3:33pm
I have heard a lot of these stances, and I have to say I like the way you have answered all of them at once. I think people just like to be the ones who are smarter or cooler, or above the current trends... This is one trend that I'm glad to see has taken off, if only to spread awareness about a terrible disease.

Also, sad to see you stopped putting out vlogs, man! Although... considering I just realized you stopped putting them out about 7 months ago, I guess I see I was part of the problem... haha. Anyway, hope all is well!
Mike Peralta
Friday, September 5th, 2014, 8:41am
Yeah you're right. People jump on all sorts of bandwagons, and inevitably "that type" of person had to jump on the bandwagon of hating on what everyone else was having fun doing. Like when people used to think it was cool to hate Barney hahaha.

Oh no worries about the vlogs! I dropped the ball awhile back on youtube promo and my numbers steadily dropped for too long, so I eventually decided I wasn't getting enough back out of it to justify the editing time. I'm still hopeful I'll come up with a better plan again one day, and if I do - I'll be back! :)
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