Just in case you've been living in a cave, here's the digest. Macmillan, the patient support charity, is raising awareness for amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) by challenging people to dump ice water over their heads and then daring three friends to do the same within 24 hours, or forfeit a charitable donation. Many people are, pleasingly, doing both.
The clever thing about the Challenge is the way it ties into the way we do things now. It's designed to go viral. It's a campaign hooked into our willingness to do something a bit silly and put it up on Facebook: a quick way for us to show the world that a) we're up for a laugh, and b) we're good people that care about those of us that have been dealt a tougher hand. There's nothing new in this, of course: Comic Relief have been doing it for years.
But the Ice Bucket Challenge ties into some very modern obsessions, specifically the selfie. We love taking pictures and videos of ourselves and putting them online to share with our friends. The Ice Bucket Challenge gives us a good excuse to do that. WIthout the cameraphone and social networking, the notion would have collapsed weeks ago. It's quick and easy to do, as well. Shoot, upload, donate, done. Now hand me a towel.
There's the chain letter aspect to consider as well. You don't just soak yourself--you pass on the challenge to others. It's not surprising that the whole thing has grown so quickly. It's set up to expand exponentially, dubling and trebling with every person that passes it on. At this rate, every man, woman and child on the planet will have been soaked.
Within reason, of course. Palestinians have already launched the Rubble Bucket Challenge, making the point that not all of us have precious water to chuck around so freely. This is the great thing about the whole phenomenon: it's a simple thing, a joke that can be filmed in one shot and dumped online incredibly quickly. That simplicity makes it a potent image that can very easily be remixed to fit a new message.
There have been complaints that the Ice Bucket Challenge reveals our narcissistic tendencies, and shows us to be a self-absorbed bunch that will only raise money for charity when there's something in it for us. This is true to a point, but it's snarking at a basic aspect of human nature. The need to be loved and appreciated, which will spur us on to do very silly things indeed. Personally, I like the notion of making charity donation a fun and inclusive activity. As traditional donation and sponsorship routes dry up and revenues shrivel, charities have to think outside the box to make sure the money they need is coming through the door. The Ice Bucket Challenge is the best example of that kind of lateral thinking I've seen in a while. Expect to see more like it soon.
As for me? Well, sorry to disappoint you all, but I've already donated. If I wanted to get wet, I'd take a shower...
Macmillan Ice Bucket Challenge