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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

Technology’s underappreciated potential

Published: August 22, 2014
Section: Opinions

Everyone remembers that day when they opened up Facebook and saw a notification that their mother had requested to be their friend. While no one really wants to add their mom on Facebook, the obligation exists to at least be polite and not have to deal with the eventual question at dinner as to why the request hadn’t been accepted yet. So people go along with it. What was once an easy way to stay connected with friends from school when they weren’t around turned into a nightmare. Instead of posting silly pictures or making insensitive statuses that were sure to make your friends laugh, Facebook turned into something you dreaded to check, for fear of your mother, or any older family member for that matter, making a fool out of themselves with technology that wasn’t really designed for them.

Many times something geared for our generation loses its luster when it gets invaded by a horde of stay-at-home moms and small businesses looking for ways to market themselves. It seems to happen with every medium out there. They all eventually turn obsolete after the general public deems it uncool and moves onto something else. Everything is more or less a fad that has little impact on the grand scheme of things, and in the end these media really only serve to eventually annoy us. Not to get so philosophical here, but it is an interesting nuance to notice whenever something new arrives on the scene.

Look at the ALS ice bucket challenge. I first heard of it when Dean Flagel was challenged and it came across my twitter feed, and I frankly had no clue what it was. Eventually I noticed more and more of my friends on Facebook were being challenged, and I became familiar with the game. It seemed simple enough; dump ice on your head or donate some money to a really good cause (or both for many), and then pass the challenge on like some chain email. It wasn’t anything too special, but it helped pass the time through the dog days of August.

Eventually though, the challenge became annoying as it stuck around and clogged up my timeline with video after video of basically the same thing. It was even worse for people who got challenged by someone, as they were now obligated to respond within the 24 hour time-frame. It seemed that the only people commenting on someone’s video were the ones nominated to carry on the flame, complaining about being challenged in the first place. It quickly turned into a formulaic exercise that was meant to be scrolled over as you checked Facebook.

Then it turned viral in the sense that it became news when celebrities and athletes and ex-presidents took part in the challenge. People started talking about the innovative and creative ways someone with a lot of money figured out how to dump water on their head. And that’s when it turned into that annoying fad that will only die out with every 24-hour news cycle. It has actually led a somewhat impressive lifespan, considering how long it has taken for it to become actual news. It is only now entering the stage where a majority of people dislike it.

Yet there really isn’t much there to dislike. Maybe the disdain is really from seeing it repeated over and over by friends on Facebook, who for numerous reasons beyond this ice bucket challenge, aren’t always our closest friends and might just annoy us to begin with. The cause itself is extremely noble, and whether people are donating their money or their warmth, awareness about ALS—a disease that is as scary to the victim as it is painful—is spread and funds are raised. The facts are evident: Donations to the ALS Association, the group behind the campaign, have increased over 10 times the average amount of expected donations just because people are dumping water over their heads. That should be the main takeaway from this fad, not getting upset with those that challenge you to do it in the first place.

The awareness raised about ALS is worth just as much as anybody could donate. People looking into what ALS—or Lou Gehrig’s Disease, as it is commonly referred to—actually is and what it actually means to the patient and their family can inspire so much more change than a simple monetary donation. Children are even involved in this challenge, mostly due to the fact that it’s the hot social thing to do right now. But this is something that could inspire the younger generation, prompt someone to become the doctor that finds the cure for this fatal disease (or perhaps find a way to prolong and ease the lives of its victims, since only about four percent of victims survive more than 10 years after being diagnosed). ALS is a vicious disease, and the more people understand about it, the more they can sympathize with those that suffer from it.

This fad may only last for a few more weeks before people ultimately become obsessed with something else. It’s inevitable. But we shouldn’t view this whole experiment with contempt just because it caused us a little extra effort to scroll past someone’s post. The point of all this is really to gain acknowledgement of a terrible disease that doesn’t get that much publicity (because it is on the rarer side of the spectrum with 30,000 Americans affected). Yet it deserves all the attention it can get because it is a lot more serious than having to dump ice water on your head.