You've probably been hearing a lot about a disease known as ALS in the last few days, and how CEOs of various tech companies are dumping buckets of chilly H2O on themselves in some misguided attempt to cure said ailment.
ALS, by the way, is a condition you're almost definitely already aware of, especially if you're American - it's more commonly known as Lou Gehrig's Disease. ALS is a rebrand by the medical community (and by rebrand, I mean an actual, scientific name), and stands for amyotrophic lateral sclerosis. ALS is the most common of the five known motor neuron diseases affecting humans (around 2 out of every 100,000), and is still very poorly understood. 90% of cases present with no apparent underlying congenital factors, with theories for causes ranging from head injuries, military service, and certain nutrition supplements to contact sports. There is no cure for ALS, and the majority of patients, even with modern care, die within 3 years of diagnosis, and the disease is invariably terminal. It is, quite obviously, a terrible and devastating condition.
Recently, ALS's number one charity, ALSA, heisted a viral social media campaign known as the "Ice Bucket Challenge" that challenged people to either donate some amount of money to charity or dump some ice water on their head. The challenge didn't actually start with ALSA, and it wasn't even about Gehrig's disease until recently. The campaign actually has its roots with a couple of pro athletes who challenged one another to either donate $100 to any charity or dump some ice water on their head. The challenge went viral, with Matt Lauer and Martha Stewart taking the plunge, though not for ALS (Lauer and Stewart were pre-ALSA-ice-gate).
From there, #IBC hit Facebook and found its way to a college athlete suffering from ALS, at which point ALSA hijacked the idea (and I mean that in a totally benign sense). Since then, the likes of Satya Nadella, Sergey Brin and Larry Page, Conan O'Brien, Tim Cook, and everyone's favorite mobile CEO John Legere have taken up the challenge.
John, of course, ever the marketer, took his #UnIceBucketChallenge as an opportunity to call out other US carrier CEOs to do the same. Tim Cook used his to promote Apple's new relationship with Beats by challenging Dr. Dre, as well as its longstanding stake in Disney by passing the torch to CEO Bob Iger. Microsoft's Nadella used his camera time to shill a Microsoft hackathon. Conan at least managed to get a link to ALSA's website in his video. Call me an optimist, but I generally assume these people all donated very significant sums to the ALSA, too - I'm not calling them cheapskates.
However, none of these celebrity videos actually talk about what ALS is, how many people it affects, the prognosis of the disease, the state of current research, or go beyond a simple "hey ALS is a thing that is bad and you should donate to stop it." This brings to mind a somewhat famous "Penn & Teller: Bullshit" bit where the duo get unsuspecting people to sign a petition to ban water. Awareness for awareness' sake is not the same thing as education, and it's not as helpful. An acronym does not evoke the kind of deep suffering a disease can cause, nor does it generate public understanding (and thus, continued support to cure) on a large scale.
It does generate money, though - ALSA has seen its donations nearly quadruple compared to the same 2-week period last year. And like most things socially "in," the organization is almost certainly ready for a steep drop-off once #IceBucketChallenge stops trending en masse. But, for the moment, the limelight is indeed pouring substantial monetary resources onto an organization seeking to cure a truly awful disease that affects tens of thousands with no regard to class, race, or nation. Of course, most of the content generating said limelight is in no way attempting to increase actual understanding of the illness or give a voice to those who suffer from it - it's all about rich people pouring ice water on their heads (and probably donating money), which is then imitated by thousands of not-rich-people (much less likely to donate money) so they can feel good about themselves for no real substantive reason ad nauseam until Courtney Love finally dumps a bucket of ice on her head and we all collectively decide this was kind of dumb and forget about it.
Listen, I get it - motor neuron diseases are crippling and often fatal disorders which desperately need more effective treatments and hopefully, one day, cures or proven preventative care. Donating to ALSA, or any other MND association - like the MNDA or the National MS Society - is something you should do if you feel strongly (even if you don't feel strongly) that these diseases are something you want to help science to understand and treat. I absolutely applaud anyone who donates to these organizations. I also applaud anyone who can do so without putting a video of themselves getting a bucket of utterly irrelevant ice water poured over their heads for all of their social media connections to see. Charity isn't about patting yourself on the back, it's about doing something for a cause you believe in.
And now, back to your regularly scheduled Android programming.