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)

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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Those who enjoy;

Finals week are approaching, and it is nothing if not a long, tedious and stressful affair. Students in our grade have to take eleven exams for the finals; including the language that you’re majoring in, your social studies elective(geography or economics), your required science subject (chemistry or biology), and one choice from either physics or sociology&culture.

I’m a spanish major myself, and I have physics, biology and economics as my electives. Since biology was notorious for its sheer overwhelming amount of material to study (and also the fact that the topic had to be genetics and heredity), physics for everyone’s collective inability to understand and economics for its complexity, many others with the same electives as I did were reduced to the verge of tears; even without all the other subjects, it was just too much.

Fortunately for me, I was rather blessed as to be able to understand most of the material given to me, and as a result, many of my classmates come to me to inquire about questions that they had while studying the material. I had somehow become the substitute teacher for most of my classmates, and to be perfectly honest, it was a really good feeling. Pride at the fact that I managed to understand something that so many others didn’t, gratitude at the fact that all these people trusted me to know the answer and to inform them accordingly, but also the strange feeling of achievement that came whenever I manage to explain something and the friend would leave with a, “You’re really good at this! Not just the material, but at explaining, too!”

I never minded people asking that of me; I know a lot of people with grades much higher than mine respond to such requests with a, “No thanks, I’m busy and I have a lot on my own plate right now.” But I tried not to do that if possible. Not just because I’ve too frequently been on the other side of such an exchange while in middle school, but also because it really was a win-win exchange. And I liked the feeling too. A lot. So I basically became the go-to person for biology, economics and physics.

In the final days before the actual exams began, it really began to peak. But something interesting happened regarding the issue. On my last period today, I’d basically given up studying for my own material, sporadically interrupted as it was by such questions, and had taken up to chatting with my classmates.

They were both taking economics as their electives, and were part of the social studies branch(as opposed to the science branch in Korean high schools). One of them were basically giving up on economics after a particularly hard question, and was demanding why I, a science branch-er, had better understanding of economics than he did. The other friend was defending my position (while I sat back and tried to claim that no, I’m not that good at economics) by telling the former of my affinity for economics, not just the school subject but in general. I’d once told him that I had read Guns, Germs and Steel and New Ideas from Dead Economists before, and he was saying that ‘she reads these things for fun, you know. She’s really interested in all of it, regardless of her branch.’

I was just sitting back, not sure how to participate in the conversation when the topic was about me, when a friend came over with an economics inquiry. I eagerly explained the relevant terms related to it, how to solve the problems with that information, and had just send her away when I realized my defender from before was looking at me with a curious stare. I asked why was he staring like that. The conversation went something like this:

“You must really like studying a lot, and I mean really.”

“…and whatever gave you that impression?”

“Just now, when you were answering her question? And explaining the material? Your eyes had this sparkle in it. The type that tells you, ‘I am so happy to be here, to be doing this right now. I feel so awesome.'”

Although my friend was a little off on exactly what had captivated me so much in that moment, it really made me think. I chose economics as opposed to geography not only because I hated geography with a passion but because I actually liked economics.

I enjoyed the time I spent in class learning the material, the feeling of achievement whenever I successfully tackled a particularly hard question and got it right. I’m not really sure if I started to like it because I was good at it, or if I came to be good at it because I liked it, but I definitely know that the two things worked as a positive feedback system: I started to put more effort into economics despite it not being particularly necessary for my college admissions, and getting good grades on the subject suddenly wasn’t a hardship anymore, especially compared with when I was in middle school.

Upon this epiphany, I was reminded of the old saying that goes something like this: “Geniuses cannot prevail over the ones who try hard, but even the ones who try hard must admit defeat to the ones who enjoy.” I’m not saying that I’m the epitome of academics or anything even close to that suggestion, but even from my case it is clear. Whatever your motivation for enjoying a subject, once you do, you achieve a level previously unimagined by just trying to ‘study’ a subject.

I’m not saying you should force yourself to enjoy something; if it were possible, such a saying wouldn’t even have a need to exist. But one’s reason for enjoying something need not be complex either – it could even be as simple as a form of attachment following a valiant effort. Heaven knows it worked for me at least. But thinking about that ‘sparkle’, about doing what I truly enjoy – I couldn’t help but feel warm inside, because it managed to reaffirm my passion: communication, and the sharing of information. People have suggested teaching as a legitimate prospect for my future, and to be perfectly honest, I’m not too strongly opposed to the idea either; I suppose we’ll see.

P.S. Finals are three days away and look at what I’ve just done! I really must be reluctant to study