Thursday, 4 September 2014

The Ice Bucket Challenge: I Nominate Modesty

In ten years, when people strain to recall the defining moments and themes of 2014, what will they remember? 

For 2004 it might be the launch of Facebook, the tragedy of the Madrid train bombings or the fact that Ireland became the first county in the world to ban smoking in public places.

For 1994 it might be Steven Spielberg's holocaust drama Schindler's List cleaning up at the Oscars, Richard Nixon's death or the Russian army finally retreating from Estonia and Latvia, marking the end of Eastern Europe's Soviet occupation.

But if we're unlucky, if we don't cure Aids, discover life on Mars or crack global warming in the five remaining months of this year, the annals of 2014 might lead on the strange fad that enticed millions of people to tip a bucket of freezing water over their heads, film the whole thing and post it on the internet. And how would we all feel about that?

Dozens of my friends have risen to the so-called ice bucket challenge, and I don't for a second wish to criticise them for taking part. After all, on the surface, it's a charitable act and all charitable acts are - at least to an extent - commendable.

But beneath the squeals and drenched white t-shirts, beyond the soaked bathroom mats, splashed onlookers, "likes", "tags" and "shares", the trend reveals a deeper, more awkward, and unflattering truth about who and what we have become.

Never has our desire to self-publicise been more palpable: We like to cherry-pick and display the details of our lives that make us look noble, intelligent, valiant and selfless, and document the incidents that inspire sympathy.

Another night shift with no company. Another weekend of studying for exams. Another delayed plane as we dawdle away the hours (and check-in on the free wifi if we’re in the first class lounge).

Sharing it for the world to see makes everything more manageable. Everyone knows how exciting the life is that we lead and no doubt wishes they were just like us. Taking our selfies, listening to our music, tweeting like the world depends on it. Sharing is caring…what everyone else thinks.

But let's get back to buckets of ice and our love of feeling charitable.

What's the only thing that makes us feel better about donating our hard-earned cash? Doing so and then telling people we've done it.

For a few measly minutes (far from fifteen!) we are not only do-gooders, but celebrities in our own right. We're sharing a message with the world of our heroism. Not only that, but we're looking fabulous while doing so and having more fun than ever before. We're changing the world one ice cube at a time, and you should take us by example and do the same.

I know ALS is a devastating disease, but how many of the people who were quickest to fetch the bucket and fill it up can even decipher the acronym? And what's more, once it's done, shared and liked, will they ever spare another thought for amyotrophic lateral sclerosis?

Once again, well done if you have donated; I'm sure every little helps. But let's not sing our praises too loudly. Ice turn to water and water to thin air, but it's not as easy or natural to make a real change and become a real hero.

Even if Facebook likes to makes us feel that way.