By Lucy Cao, IV Form
Over the past summer, the Ice Bucket Challenge captured the social media world’s attention. Friends, families, and celebrities have all been actively participating in this event. This challenge is designed to inform more people of a rare disease called ALS. Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS) is a neurodegenerative disease that affects the functioning of motor neurons in one’s brain. As the motor neurons degenerate in one’s brain, they will eventually die. Dead motor neurons will not be able to help the brain start or control the movement in one’s muscles. As the disease progresses, an ALS patient has the risk of becoming completely paralyzed.
The ALS challenge was initiated for a former baseball player from Boston named Pete Frates, who was diagnosed with ALS in March 2012. His symptoms have developed rapidly since then and he is now paralyzed, struggles to speak, and requires a feeding tube for his food intake. He was devastated just like any normal person would feel after being diagnosed with the disease. However, he has planned a new goal for himself. He is no longer an athlete, but he still has ambitions to contribute to the ALS community and to the society. His ALS challenge has made great accomplishments to his new life pursuit. He has not only raised money for the ALS Association, but has also raised public awareness for ALS and the people who are suffering because of this disease.
A person who is nominated for an ALS challenge can either pour a bucket of ice cubes and water over his or her head or donate $100 to the ALS Association. The person also gets to nominate three people after he or she has completed the challenge. As this event spread to far corners of the world, some skeptics have raised doubts about it.
As Americans are so thrilled by the excitement of the Ice Bucket Challenge, however, Africans on the other side of the globe are craving water. We need to ponder how we are privileged without even realizing our advantages while others could only look up to our lives and hope to possess the slightest bit of our seemingly endless resources. In addition to Africa, citizens in the state of California are also experiencing some serious obstacles because of the drought. It might be hard to imagine that people in another part of the United States are struggling to acquire enough water. However, the truth can be surprising. A report from the state of California said that California is short of more than the amount of water that could be consumed in a year. California has also exhausted its topsoil moisture reserves because of another serious drought that started three years ago. We should think about the extent of our attention and concern given to the people who are not fortunate enough to enjoy the resources that we take for granted. The Ice Bucket Challenge may have started out for a good cause, but we might not have realized that the resources we are squandering can be treasure to people from somewhere else in this world or even in this country.
Nevertheless, despite the fact that the challenge is wasteful in terms of water resources, it has made tremendous progress in people’s understanding of ALS and has raised concern for ALS patients and families. The water that has been poured over people’s heads has helped tremendously in raising public awareness for the disease. Even if we had not poured those buckets of ice and water, Africans and Californians would not get additional water from it. Instead, we are using our abundant resources to do good things. We are using the 21st century media to accelerate the distribution of information about ALS and make positive impacts on the ALS community. At the same time, more practical impacts have been made. According to the ALS Association, 100.9 million dollars have been raised from July 29 to August 29, which is a huge leap from the 2.8 million dollars during the same time period of last year. The amount of money raised is sufficient for the ALS Association to help improve the situations in the ALS community. The Association has planned on using the money raised to financially support the most advanced research on the cure and treatment for ALS and to help care for ALS patients.
The involvement of celebrities is another important aspect of this phenomenon. As more and more celebrities have accepted and completed the Ice Bucket Challenge, the public has obtained more awareness for the issue of ALS. Because of the incredible public attention that celebrities can capture, the Ice Bucket Challenge has become the most popular social media event over the summer. While celebrities are making great progress in raising awareness on a national level, they have also turned this event into a show—sometimes a mocking one–for the whole world. More and more celebrity followers have considered the challenge as a precious opportunity to see their favorite actor, singer, or athlete soaked in iced water and acting silly. Some people are more concerned about which celebrity accepted the challenge and are more obsessed with the hilarious videos that celebrities post rather than the initial purpose of this challenge, which was to raise money and concern for ALS patients—not to raise awareness of the celebrities themselves.
Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and other social media have played an important role in the progress of the challenge. Even though these social media tools are usually seen as a means of entertainment or procrastination, they have proven that they can make positive changes in our society. They are no longer websites that are made for a laugh during breaks or for rumor and gossip to spread around. Instead, they can be used for charity, fundraising, and for all the good causes—they can be a link to social and cultural changes. We should be able to reflect upon those previously undiscovered benefits of social media and make efficient use of these tools, which clearly the Ice Bucket Challenge seized.
After all, the Ice Bucket Challenge itself is not negatively altering our society. In order to make it more positive and efficient in terms of its starting point, however, it is essential for us to actively get involved in helping ALS patients in our community, to know their needs and to contribute in a meaningful way beyond offering money.
Lucy Cao is a IV Former from Shanghai, China. She enjoys all kinds of art and music, and she loves traveling. This is her second year living and studying in the US.
 Goldberg, Eleanor. “Meet the Guy Who Made ALS ‘Ice Bucket Challenge’ Go Viral.” Huff Post Impact. N.p., n.d. Web. 22 Sept. 2014. <http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/08/15/pete-frates-ice-bucket-challenge _n_5683074.html>.
 Ortiz, Erik. “California Drought Crisis Reaches Worst Level as It Spreads North.” NBC
News. N.p., 31 July 2014. Web. 22 Sept. 2014. <http://www.nbcnews.com/storyline/california-drought/california-drought-crisis-reaches-worst-level-it-spreads-north-n169516>.
 “The ALS Association Expresses Sincere Gratitude to Over Three Million Donors.” ALS Association. N.p., n.d. Web. 22 Sept. 2014. <http://www.alsa.org/news/media/press-releases/ice-bucket-challenge-082914.html>.