Essay: Thoughts on the #ALSIceBucketChallenge

If you grab a hold of anyone, literally anyone right now and ask them ‘What’s the biggest social media syndrome these days?’, it would probably be guaranteed that they will answer: “The ALS Ice Bucket Challenge”. With the self-explanatory title, the ‘viral’ quality of putting something that can be interpreted as fun – more like downright hilarious in some cases – on video and posting it on social networking sites, and ‘nominating’ the next three people to either donate or go through the same ordeal, this campaign has probably had the most success in the least amount of time, and the most recognition out of the most recent funding events.

A brief explanation about the event (although I’m sure everyone knows about this already but just to make it a well-organized post): ALS(Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis), more commonly referred to as Lou Gherig’s disease in certain countries. One of its most well-known victims is the scientist Stephen Hawking, and as we see in his case, reduced to a helpless state on a wheelchair that will only get you so far (even if it didn’t – much to the great relief of the scientific community – affect his ability to come up with genius scientific theories), ALS is a neurodegenerative disease that will most commonly lead to loss of control in the muscles, and eventually an early death (in most cases). The ice bucket challenge was coined from a previous awareness campaign that based itself on cancer research – once you are nominated by someone, you either donate 100$ to the ALS foundation or douse yourself in a bucket of ice water, nominating another three people in the process.

It is simple, it is (ironically enough) fun, and it is effective.

Of course, as all events are, it is not without its points to criticize. Many people have pointed out the fact that this is something that we’re supposed to approach with sincerity and not as a joke. The amount of water put to waste by all the people dumping buckets of it on their heads are also an unrecorded, but nonetheless severe consequence of the event. More practical concerns include the fact that the concentration of attention and donations to a single community out of the sheer millions of medical conditions – out of which ALS is far from the only one that needs more attention and more donations -, the sustainability of the donations, the effectiveness considering the usage of the money donated – there are many points to reconsider, and while it is obvious that the intentions of the campaign are admirable, the consequences and worries which it brings to mind are also not to be ignored.

Some concerns are easily discarded – for example, people are worried that the viral factor of the challenge, the ice bucket part, distracts people from fully understanding that this is a very severe problem and thus requires our very serious attentions. However – and it must be noted that this is merely a personal opinion – those people, I think, are taking things far too seriously. I’ve seen people on facebook practically condemning others for having laughed, for having not kept a straight face while they were doused in water. The Korean media – who loves to make things look as if they are better and more important than they are – even came up with the idea that the ice bucket factor was there so that participants would be able to ‘feel the pain of muscle contractions that the ALS patients go through daily’. Other than the fact that this is completely false (the ice bucket factor was coined from a cancer donation campaign that preceeded this one, not even to mention the fact that the pain of ALS is not something as light to be compared with merely a bucket of cold water), I think people are overlooking the fact that this is a campaign to raise awareness out of all things. Oftentimes, commercials or other advertising methods also take the form of short, well delievered humor, because it is effective. The same goes to this occasion as well. To think that the method itself is devoid of the humor factor seems ironic to me. And if it helped – well, it certainly reached the intended goal of awareness.

(This does bring upon the question of whether or not the ends can justify the means, however. However, in this particular case, especially since the means aren’t malintentional but more along the lines of ignorance when it does come into play, my belief is that when such good comes out of it, the possible errors made from ignorance can, indeed, be justified)

Of course, other problems are not so easily ignored. The most serious of which being the sustainability of the donations, and its repercussions to the ALS community. The Ice Bucket Challenge, long-lasting and influential as it was for a simple social media syndrome, is essentially that: a syndrome. In other words, it is, by definition, meant to be a one-time event. The ideal outcome of this flow of events would have been the people influenced by the proceedings of this event to maintain a continued interest, and support, to the ALS community. However, it goes without saying that the maintenance of this level of attention and support is borderline impossible; and that fact might end up doing the ALS community more harm than the good that it did. One side of analysis is a simple observation of market economics: if the value for something, expressed in the forms of investments and the like, rises astronomically in a short period of time, the cooling off period might bring the value of the said commodity down to a level even lower than it had been before. Applied into this situation, it could mean that the donations and the level of interest, having peaked so suddenly, might drop back down to the near-ignorance levels of before or even worse; to become practically forgotten.

Another problem is that research or any form of investment made by the ALS community would end up being unsustainable; rendering them unable to utilize the precious donations in the ways it would help the most. Medical research is a tricky and complicated procedure; you never know what exactly you’ll be able to achieve. Even with the astronomical amount of donations happening right now, it will inevitably run out at some point, which, when the time comes to it, will open up significant complications.

But, despite all such reservations and depressing possibilities (and let me add once again that these were just personal opinions and predictions on my part), I still do support the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge. It raised donations that would otherwise have not been used to any constructive purpose, it has helped the ALS community itself immensely already, and will continue to do so in the future if coupled with the correct judgment on how to handle the donations. But I also dearly hope that the attention doesn’t dwindle too drastically once everything cools off, and that more people would become aware of the situations of minority medical conditions. The value of human life and dignity aren’t something to be decided by how profitable it could be; I hope that the Ice Bucket Challenge has also helped in refuting that particular status quo, as it has done for me and several others.

(on a completely unrelated note; Stephen Hawking has survived with ALS longer than any medical professional would have predicted – does that mean his status of Great Scientist and thus the subsequent amount of support might have possibly helped his survival? Or is it completely irrelevant? Something to think about, I guess)

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Book Review: Predictably Irrational

This is more of a very belated review; I read the book a couple of years back and because I was SO unwilling to study in the past few days, I just picked this up from the shelf for the first time in a couple of years and got reminded of exactly why I’d liked this book so much :)

As always, this review is also up on my goodreads account, feel free to check it out if you will!

 

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Writeworld Prompt #2: Short Story

I’m back with another one of those stories! Once again, this is an image from the writeworld tumblr blog.

Original image source is here

Backgrounds - Workshop by Scummy

The dull, gray atmosphere of the city rushed past me as I turned up the collars of my coat to shield my face from the cold. Winter in the cities were brutal – at any rate, they certainly didn’t grant me any mercy. It was just like the city itself. Merciless as it went on in its own course, tripping down the unprepared while they scrabbled to get a hold of themselves. Freezing in place the ones who weren’t strong enough to fight, or the ones who simply refused to go on anymore.

I turned a corner to avoid the worst of the wind, and kept my eyes on the ground as I marched forward. People bumped into me as they passed, my mumbled ‘sorry’ deafened by the roar of the wind, and one of them ended up slamming me to a wall. I jerked my head up to see who it had been, maybe shout a few words in anger – not a word of apology, wow, was everyone raised in a barn these days? – only to face a deserted street, the people rushing past as if they hadn’t seen a thing. And they probably hadn’t, ignorant of their surroundings as they were. Oh, how I longed for the warmth that only a civil human could bring me! The warmth that seemed so far away, now, that it had been so long since I had last felt it. The city was truly a miserable place.

I heaved a sigh as I dusted off my jacket and unraveled my scarf. But just as I was about to wind it again, a gust of wind flew it out of my hands because of course everything has to happen to me. I ran after it, cursing my short stature as my fingers brushed the edge as it flew through the alleys. After a minute or two of sprinting around alleyways, it caught on the side of a shop sign, and I momentarily sagged in relief. I retrieved it and glanced at my surroundings. Sure enough, I’d been led into the completely unfamiliar side of town. Looking up to the sign that had saved my scarf, golden embellished letters reading Anciens et Nouveux stared back at me. A quick glance inside told me that the shop was open, and I stepped inside, hoping to ask for directions.

The door opened with a soft ding as I entered. The smell of wood, coupled with what was probably several fine layers of dust rushed into my nostrils, and I inhaled a deep breath. It smelled of home, something that I hadn’t been reminded of for a long time.

In the center was a huge yellow armchair – the kind in which you sit on and drink hot chocolate on a day such as this, if you have the time and space for it. I brushed my fingers across the armrest, feeling a phantom of warmth that was oddly reminiscent of body heat. I lifted my head to look around the shop more carefully. In every corner was an assortment of little things, things that one wouldn’t have any use of in a practical world but for the sentimental value. In every visible nook and cranny was an explosion of colors – so different from the dull gray tones of everything that surrounded me in the outside.

My eyes zeroed on the windowsill, where a steaming mug of something was placed next to an ornate box painted gold. I made my way towards it and noticed that there was a note:

Yours, if you would please.

The steam emitting from the mug indicated that it hadn’t been long since it had been placed there. Pondering about the lack of human presence in the seemingly open shop, I perched myself on the windowsill and flicked open the clasp of the box.

It was a music box, of sorts. A figurine of a ballerina had popped up from the inside, frozen in mid-twirl, waiting for someone to allow her to continue her dance. I tentatively wound up the spring, and the soft notes of Clementine started flowing from the box. I absentmindedly picked up the mug. The note had to be an offer, right? For whoever would enter the shop?

I closed my eyes and took a sip, losing myself in the soft notes coming out from the box.

“Irie?”

I jerked awake, my eyes flying open as I sought to make sense of my surroundings. The music had disappeared at some point, and I vaguely remembered sitting down on a windowsill at a shop somewhere, but this place was definitely not the shop that I had been in, but someplace familiar. Someplace that I hadn’t been in in a long time. Someplace that had…

“Lizzie?”

My little sister jumped and squealed in delight as I called her name, having grown so much and yet stayed the same since I had last seen her. She was dressed in a checkered skirt, the knee-length stockings and mary janes bouncing around as she flitted around like the exuberant eight-year old that she was.

“It’s really you! But when did you- when did you come back? You didn’t even give us a call!” She all but squealed, excitement evident and yet summoning a pang of guilt on my part for not having contacted for so long.

“Well, I wasn’t really expecting to come over so soon.” I said, nervously brushing back my hair. “In fact, I don’t even know how I just did.”

Little Elizabeth’s smile faltered for a second, face morphing into one of confusion before focusing back on my face.

“But you’re here, and that’s what matters, right?”

I had to smile back. “Yes, for now.”

After learning that both our parents were out for business in town, and having my little sister escort me on a tour of everything that had changed about my own home, we went down to the beach with a picnic basket to watch the sun set atop of the sea. The sky was flooding with so many colors, colors that filled me with warmth and yet had been lost to me for so long, I felt a strange emotion blooming in my chest. It wasn’t entirely foreign per se; it was something that I had tried to suppress so hard since coming to the city, that, by doing so, prevented me from connecting with everything that had been around me. An invisible barrier of cold that I had despised so much, and yet was projecting myself.

“Irie?”

“Hmm?”

“You ‘kay? You look like you’re going to… I dunno, cry or something.”

I blinked twice at that observation, not realizing that tears had welled up in my eyes. I hastily brushed them aside, and shot her a grin.

“It’s nothing.”

She let out a contented hum at that, and started to doze off in the warm sunlight, bundled up against the nonexistent cold as she was. I held her with a fond gaze for a while and picked her up gently, packing up and heading for home.

The sun hadn’t disappeared completely yet when I laid her sleeping form back in the bed. I stared at her peaceful expression for a moment, cherishing the moment that was so common and yet so deprived to me at the same time. My forlorn gaze was interrupted by the sudden ringing of familiar notes floating through the air.

Recognizing the music that had magically brought me here, I closed my eyes and enjoyed the sensation of being swept up by the soft melodies carrying me through space and time. When I opened my eyes, I found myself exactly as I had dozed off in the antique shop, perched on the windowsill. Next to me was the music box, slowing down as the spring that I had wound up made its final turns and coming to an end.

I got up to leave, brushing imaginary dust off of my jacket, when another note, one that had decidedly not been there when I had first come in, caught my eye.

Here’s to hoping you had a good experience of your true heart’s desire.

A&N

Smiling, and deciding not to inquire about the mystery and magic surrounding the shop, I stepped out the door and onto the sidewalk. I still didn’t know the road home, but my feet stepped onwards with a purpose.

The weather had not eased up any, the wind just as harsh as it had been before, but suddenly, it was feeling so much more bearable. A pleasant warmth had settled itself in my chest, warming my body up to the tips of each finger even as it numbed from the cold. It was as though I had dropped an armful of ice from where it had been freezing me from the inside. The world was still a dull, banal grey of concrete, but it had a glow to it, a sheen of color that had been previously unnoticed because of my own reluctance to see properly. It wasn’t such a desolate environment – not if we decided to see it otherwise.

I glanced around, observing the undertones of color of every passerby walking past. Everyone trying so desperately to hide their warmth, to hold onto the icy coldness unbeknownst to themselves while hating every moment of it.

A faint buzz awoke me from my musings, and I scrambled in my pockets to retrieve my phone. Without looking at the screen, guessing who it might be already, I flipped the screen and held it to my ear.

“Hello?”

“Hey, sweetheart. How have you been keeping up?”

I couldn’t help the smile that started to creep up as I answered. “It’s the city, miserable as always, but it’s certainly started to look up lately.”

“That’s good to know, hun. Listen, your sister had the most amazing dream today and told me to pass it on to you….”

I now grinned widely and shamelessly, as an elderly man radiating turquoise walked past. “Tell me all about it.”

“Well, apparently she dreamt that you suddenly showed up at home….”