If you know me even a little bit, you know where I fall on the spectrum of cynicism. If you don’t know me, let’s just say I’m a Skeptic (capital S intentional). So when the ice bucket challenge, which ostensibly raises awareness and money for the Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS) Association, exploded across social media in recent months, I was more than a bit suspicious. There’s a tangible ‘LOOK AT ME! LOOK AT ME!’ vibe in many of the videos and an I-don’t-want-to-be-left-out element that smells to my nose more like herd mentality than authentic generosity of spirit.
You see I have a charity budget, and every year I plan which charities I’ll give to, my support level, and then each month I send an auto-directed donation. I also take advantage of a great matching funds program with my employer. And I manage to do this (with the exception of this blog entry) without telling anyone about it or performing complementary water stunts. Maybe it’s my personality or maybe it’s the WASPy Southerner in me, but for me good deeds feel more genuine and heartfelt if they’re performed with quiet dignity.
And then I looked at the money. According to the BBC, “…from 29 July to 28 August this year ALS received $98.2m – compared with $2.7m donated during the same period last year.”
Wow. The equivalent of several years’ of donations in a single month. The numbers blew me away.
Suddenly the motivations behind the ice bucket challenge phenomenon interested me less than the technology enabling it all. The past few months have given us perhaps the most compelling example so far of the power of technology to connect and focus the collective effort of millions to drive massive, high-velocity change.
Without a doubt social media has brought us lots of negatives: loss of privacy, social isolation, widespread disinformation, censorship, cyber-bullying, and so on. But the flood of money pouring into the ALS Association never could have happened without it. And that’s a good thing, period.
For a cynic like me, on most days the awesome power and pervasiveness of social media, its potential for abuse, its vapid content, its vanity-driven nature, fill me with techno-skeptic fear and loathing. Just not today. Today my ice bucket is half full.