Life

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The Ice Bucket Challenge might prove to be the most successful charity campaign in modern times, in terms of raising awareness and research funds for a disease. According to Time magazine, it has so far raised way over $100 million dollars which in turn makes their effort last year of $2.5 million look paltry.

The inevitable question is: why has this campaign has been so successful? I’m sure a lot of other charities are asking themselves this very question, and a lot of advertising executives would love to know how a campaign became so successful, in such a short time. Pepsi, Coca-Cola , Nike and Adidas would love to create a viral video half as popular as the Ice Bucket Challenge, and let’s not forget that the campaign has cost ALS  next to nothing, whereas most advertising campaigns cost a fortune.

Does anyone remember the cinnamon challenge or planking? It seems our need to be observed and thought about by others is so strong that we don’t mind looking stupid because of it. Anything for a laugh, eh? Now if you have a challenge that invokes an extremely funny reaction from the participant, it will become popular in its own right. But add a good cause to it, and you have a good justification for getting in front of the camera and performing. Who knew so many people wanted to humiliate themselves in front of the camera for a good cause.

The fact that ALS is something that does not affect most of our lives, helps its popularity. It is a rare disease that literally needs awareness. Not many people, myself included, knew anything about ALS before this challenge, whereas cancer is an exhausted disease; there is no novelty in raising awareness for cancer. It is a well worn path and lets face it, it is a bit too close to home for anyone’s liking. It is something that you might get and it might kill you. Out of sight, out of mind.

The social aspect of the challenge might be its greatest asset. It taps into our need to be part of something. It makes donation, or avoiding the donation and subsequently raising awareness, fun. So you want to be part of the challenge, you want to express yourself through it and you want others, including your friends to comment on it, watch you and laugh at you. You also have the power of nomination to get everyone else involved, friend or foe. Whoever started the chain mail concept must be smiling in his or her grave as the campaign grows exponentially.

It might be the case that people who get involved with the campaign do it for reasons other than a genuine desire to raise awareness for ALS. Most do it because it is fun and because it is for a charity, maybe they do it cause they are hungry for the camera and the attention, whatever the reason though, the campaign is working magnificently and so its objective is met with the utmost success.

The backlash against this campaign has been limited to a few articles and, ironically, memes that only wished to become as widespread as the campaign. A teenager tragically died after participating in the challenge, yet there was only muted coverage and no real media storm. Regarding this challenge, it seems the media can forgive one death if it is for charity, two or more and all sort of rumours might begin.

Sooner or later someone will come up with a new gimmick that goes viral. It probably won’t be as successful as ALS’ challenge if it follows the same formula. It would certainly need a new angle to up the game. Like it or not, it seems for the next couple of weeks our social media feed will still be full of the ice bucket challenge until another ubiquitous craze displaces it. But a bit of inconvenience is nothing if it results in some breakthrough for ALS and other Motor Neurone Disease research.

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Albert Camus

As I sit here writing, the urge of smoking a cigarette once more is with me. I am in front of the laptop, coffee on my table, and the only thing that is missing is a cigarette dangling from the side of my mouth. Somehow writing without cigarettes does not feel right. I am fully aware that it is a ridiculous notion. I have given up cigarettes too many times to be fooled by this excuse again, I have gone back to smoking again in order to open up the gate to creativity, to be able to write again, but instead ended up with a headache and a guilty conscience. It seems that all the great writers smoked; people whose skills I admire, Steinbeck, Hemingway, Sartre, Camus and so on. Clearly smoking cigarettes alone could not make one a good writer, yet there is something to smoking, one wonders why so many writers have the habit. Is it just that one generation started smoking and the next followed? Is it because you can pose well with a cigarette in your hand? Clearly now that social attitudes toward cigarettes have changed you would hardly ever see a photo of a contemporary writer holding a cigarette on the back of a book. Not long ago though, writers showed off this habit as a symbol of their intellect.

As a smoker, or a recent ex-smoker, I know well the harm that smoking can cause. Smokers are probably the best informed people about the harm of smoking; every time we buy a pack we see a new reason why smoking is harmful. Yet millions, like me, still carry on with the knowledge that they are probably contributing to their early death. I have tried to give up many times to no avail. The longest I have gone without smoking since I started in my late teens has been no more than a few months. I always seem to find a reason to go back. My main reasons have been finding life rather slow paced and depressing, whereas with cigarettes I feel fuller, more myself. At the same time I am aware of the detrimental effect of cigarette on one’s health, and particularly on one’s financial health. For the last few months, my chest feels heavy when I smoke. I have also developed a phlegm problem, and my teeth are decaying faster. Yet I insist on carrying on with this abusive, one sided love affair.

It depresses me that I smoke, it signifies to me that the emotional part of my brain overrides logical reasoning. I see smoking as a sign of my weakness, a sign that I am not in control of myself. It is a strange sort of self-harming schizophrenia. The brain craves cigarettes. I think about this; what is it craving exactly? What state is my brain trying to achieve? It might be safe to assume smoking a cigarette, or more accurately addiction to cigarettes, cannot be beneficial to anyone, so it is therefore safe to assume our brains do not always act in our interest. But who are we if not our brains? If someone is being extraordinarily rude you might for a second contemplate hitting them, but your brain can make the decision not to hit them as there will be too many drastic consequences, or it might immediately recall your moral objections to physical violence. But when you are a nicotine addict your brain tends to forget all the evidence against cigarettes and, like a telemarketer, aggressively over-hype and exaggerate the benefits of smoking a cigarette. Your brain actually rewards you by releasing dopamine to make smoking feel good.. Which begs the question, why my own brain is trying to self-destruct. Why all the knowledge of the harm of cigarettes would be overridden by a vague feeling of nostalgia towards them.

It is disappointing to know that our brains do not cause the same urgency in us to achieve our goals in life. In fact most of the time it tries to jeopardise and hinder our progress, We are certainly more than one person. The person who wants to live a healthy life, who wants to be able to perform in a Saturday league match with ease, is not the same person who wants to smoke ten cigarettes a day, for reasons that he can not put his finger on. Personally, I associate cigarettes with relaxation; I have a lot of anxieties, and cigarettes appear to help me deal with them. It also gives me a sense of confidence; makes me look less square, like someone who is willing to get his hands dirty. Yet these are all very weak reasons to smoke a cigarette. My anxiety is not crippling nor is my lack of confidence. I have relapsed into smoking enough times to know that these are all mirages. When I smoke my chest begins hurting; I see signs of my health deteriorating everywhere. So while it makes me a tad more productive, it adds to my anxieties, and causes me a real fear of fatal illness, and it is not the illness itself that causes the most fear but the realisation of stupidity of this habit. To think that I might run out of time without managing to wise up to this is what I fear most.

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