Why Are We All Dumping Buckets of Ice Water On Our Heads?

ice-bucket-challenge-tw-user-coverA few days ago, my wife and I had a discussion about the ice bucket challenge. We thought it was funny that so many people were doing it, but I couldn’t really comprehend how dumping a bucket of ice water on your head was supposed to help find a cure for Lou Gehrig’s disease. Naturally, the cynical side of me laughed when I saw the following meme start to circulate around FaceBook.

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That being said, I could see that the challenge was obviously raising awareness of ALS. I even found myself Googling about the disease so I could try to sound slightly intelligent when the topic inevitably came up around friends.

[Let me save you the trouble: Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), often referred to as "Lou Gehrig's Disease," is a progressive neurodegenerative disease that affects nerve cells in the brain and the spinal cord. Motor neurons reach from the brain to the spinal cord and from the spinal cord to the muscles throughout the body. The progressive degeneration of the motor neurons in ALS eventually leads to their death. When the motor neurons die, the ability of the brain to initiate and control muscle movement is lost. With voluntary muscle action progressively affected, patients in the later stages of the disease may become totally paralyzed. You can read more here]

Eventually my Googling also led me to this fun fact: As of August 20, the ALS Association has received $31.5 million in donations. According to the ALSA website, that’s almost a full $30 million more than last year during the same time period.

And then it dawned on me. Over the last few weeks, we’ve seen celebrities, former presidents, CEOs, football teams, kids, and neighbors dumping buckets over their heads, but what we haven’t seen is that many (if not most) of the same people pouring ice water on themselves are also opening their wallets for the cause.

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But what is it about the ice bucket challenge that has drawn so much attention and participation? In order to make sense of the virality of the ice bucket challenge, I decided to break down the reasons why I believe it is so popular:

  • First, the ice bucket challenge is funny. We all want to see videos of our friends getting cold water dumped over their heads. This is why the challenge had already been circulating across social media prior to its adoption by the ALSA.
  • Second, the ice bucket challenge is easy. You don’t have to have an amazing camera or a lot of props à la Bill Gates. All you need is a phone and a bucket of ice water. There’s literally no excuse not to do it if you’ve been challenged. It’s not like we’re challenging each other to run a marathon. (Now there’s an idea…)
  • Third, the ice bucket challenge applies the right amount of peer pressure. We all succumb to it, celebrities included. It’s the same reason why most of us stuck our tongue to a frozen pole when we were younger. It’s the reason why some of us still stick our tongue to the flag pole every winter. (And just in case you think you’re too cool for the ice bucket challenge, I triple dog dare you to do it.)
  • Fourth, the ALS ice bucket challenge has an amazing origin story. Sure people were already dumping water on their heads long before ALS adopted it, but how could you not want to participate after watching SportsCenter’s segment on Pete Frates. If you haven’t seen it yet, watch it here and then go dump another bucket over your head.
  • Fifth, the ice bucket challenge is a call to action. We can’t all be scientists, but we can all fill up buckets with ice and water and dump them over our heads. (Granted, some do it more gracefully than others…) The challenge is your way of showing your support. It’s how you contribute more than just money (although there’s plenty of money being contributed too). By playing along, you are giving up your comfort, a little of your time, and a lot of your compassion.
  • Sixth, the ice bucket challenge satisfies our need to share what we’re doing with friends on social media while still allowing us to be personal in our charitable giving. We want our friends in on the action. That’s why we post everything to FaceBook. But, charitable offerings is kind of a personal thing. Now we can have both. “Hey guys, I’m supporting ALS!” Hey self, I’m supporting ALS. It’s the best of both worlds.

[Side note: To the millions of unoriginal, snarky comments "concerned about the environment", I’m pretty sure the earth is going to be ok. If it makes you feel any better, I didn’t turn on my sprinklers this summer. My grass is dying, but all of the water I saved should make up for the thousands of people who have yet to participate and donate. You’re welcome.]

So, in closing, who cares if it’s gimmicky? This is your chance to participate in something great. A thread in a tapestry. Embrace it.

As proof of my participation, here’s my video (also be sure to check out my sweet farmer’s tan, Missouri style):


UPDATE: If you’re still wondering why we dump buckets of ice water on our head, then you should watch this (skip to the 2 minute mark):


2 thoughts on “Why Are We All Dumping Buckets of Ice Water On Our Heads?

  1. Thanks for accepting the challenge and for helping to learn and raise awareness for ALS. I have a family member who is suffering from this disease right now! If this helps them feel love and receive even better medicine while they are suffering than every bucket is worth it!

  2. I also think that the fact that they set the number of nominations to 3 is brilliant. If it were more than that, then there would probably be more diffusion of responsibility (I am one of 35 people nominated, so no one will notice if I don’t acknowledge it). Also, it gives the “virus” (and I don’t mean that in a bad way) the potential to spread somewhat rapidly (the total # infected should increase geometrically, and transmission should occur within 24 hours) so that people can have the chance to be nominated while the whole thing is somewhat fresh. A very fortunate combination of a good cause (one that people do not want to be viewed as against) that is built upon a solid diffusion model. All-in-all, very smart.

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