Defeating Disease With Digital Memes: #icebucketchallenge

UPDATE (Aug. 20): The ALS Association has now revealed that, as of today, they’ve received $31.5 million in donations to ALS research!

My following article below was originally published by SERIOUS WONDER:

ALS meme

Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the last month, I’m fairly sure you’ve heard of the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge. In fact, I feel confident to assume that you’ve even taken time out of your day to at least watch people participate in said challenge as well. Nothing to be shy about either, seeing as how it’s become a natural way of life these days to follow closely, and even participate in, the latest trending memes.

What is the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge? The challenge is a fun, memetic event in which forces people to dump very cold ice water on themselves for charity, only to then issue 24-hour challenges to others of their choosing. Most people who’ve taken the challenge have donated to the ALS Association – a national nonprofit organization dedicated to fighting amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease.

ALS graphic

What is ALS?

  • ALS is a progressive neurodegenerative disease that attacks nerve cells and pathways in the brain and spinal cord. As a result, an ALS patient’s voluntary muscle control and movement degrade and die, effectively paralyzing them.
  • Nearly 6,000 people are diagnosed with ALS every year, with an average of 15 people per day, killing two per 100,000 people.
  • The average life expectancy of those diagnosed with ALS is two to five years.

ALS challenge meme

What started off as a simple, but fun way for friends and family to come together and donate to a good cause, eventually became an international sensation, erupting in memetic fashion as thousands and thousands of people participated – anywhere from the common layperson to movie stars, musicians, and even today’s greatest minds throughout the scientific community. In this last week alone, online viewers were able to see the top entrepreneurial minds of today take the challenge and donate: Jeff Bezos, Bill Gates, Mark ZuckerbergElon Musk, and Richard Branson!

As a result of this digital meme’s ever-growing popularity, the ALS Association has already reported a record number of donations with a total of $15.6 million! To understand how amazing this is (other than the fact that nearly $16 million is going into ALS research), last year the ALS Association garnered around $1.8 million. Imagine what the total amount in donations may be next year!

“With recent advances in research and improved medical care, many patients are living longer, more productive lives. Half of all those affected live at least three years or more after diagnosis. About 20 percent live five years or more, and up to ten percent will survive more than ten years.” – ALS Association

Below are a few videos of different people accepting the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge that I found were very innovative, or at the very least entertaining.


Serious Wonder‘s Kevin Russell referred to memes as “linguistic seeds,” because the process of creating memes is the result of ideas metaphorically having sex. It’s the birthing of new and innovative ideas being passed along, cascading down digital waves throughout social networks.

The ALS Ice Bucket Challenge is no different, seeing as how it started off with the simple idea of throwing a bucket of iced water over your head to spread awareness about ALS. Only to then transform into similar-but-different means of expressing that very same idea, as the videos above clearly show. Because of digital memes, the cure for ALS has come closer within our grasp as people continue pouring money into research. Imagine what digital memes could achieve if we also targeted other diseases, such as cancer, Alzheimer’s, and Parkinson’s! As far as I’m concerned, digital memes save lives.

Donate alsIf you’re willing to take the cold, then take up the challenge and get others involved! And don’t forget to donate to the ALS Association, which you can do so by clicking the donate button to the right.


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