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By 5 September 2014 | Categories: news

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Before the internet, people were forced to behave stupidly in front of only a small group of friends, writes Deep Fried Man.

The internet offers human beings a choice. It is a source of limitless information, and so we can choose to spend our time researching modern philosophy, or expanding our knowledge of quantum physics. The fact that we instead choose to look at pics of cats and check to see if Jay-Z and Beyoncé are still an item says a lot about us. Or rather, it says one thing about us - That we are stupid.

Nothing encapsulated that stupidity more than the recent rise of Neknomination. Invented, as stupid things often are, by a drunken Australian, the Neknomination involves downing alcohol, often accompanied by the performance of a life-threatening, strange or otherwise mind-numbingly asinine stunt. As you may expect, it became a huge viral success. 

Now, Neknomination has been surpassed by the ice bucket challenge. Pouring a bucket of ice water over your own head is not a significantly more intelligent or sophisticated action than downing an alcoholic beverage, but somehow the ice bucket challenge comes across as far more noble than its predecessor.

First of all, it’s meant to raise awareness for Lou Gehrig's disease, with those nominated having the option of performing the challenge or forfeiting and donating a hundred dollars to the ALS Association charity. Attach a charitable cause to an action, no matter how unjustifiable, and that action suddenly seems selfless and philanthropic. Whether it’s tempting hypothermia, as in this case, or growing the kind of facial hair, as with Movember, that would usually identify you as a possible threat to the wellbeing of small children, no-one can resist a dumb challenge when there’s a charity involved.

And, unlike the Neknomination, which is usually taken up by those who previously had an extremely small chance of being nominated for anything other than a Darwin Award, the list of those who have succumbed to the ice bucket challenge reads like Time’s 50 Most Influential People. The ice bucket challenge is, therefore, a phenomenon that opens up a variety of deep, philosophical questions.

Your choices are donating a hundred dollars to the cause or pouring ice water over your own head. Doesn’t that make you a better person if you refuse the nomination, firstly because you donate money to a good cause and secondly because you don’t have to suffer the humiliation of large amounts of people watching you pour ice water over yourself? Couldn’t the likes of Bill Gates, Oprah Winfrey and Justin Bieber afford to fork out the hundred bucks? And, if so, are they not maybe doing it just because they don’t want to feel left out, like if you refused to join the pile-on in high school?

But the most pressing question is, where do we draw the line? If we were told that filming ourselves wearing nothing but a g-string and crocks, riding on a unicycle while drinking a glass of our own urine would help fight Ebola, would we all do it? Even Oprah Winfrey?

Only time will tell. In the meanwhile, allow me to ask one final question: If it’s for a good cause, is it okay if I still find it really, really stupid? Of course, I’m not blaming the internet for any of this. Human stupidity existed long before the web was popularised. It just wasn’t nearly as celebrated. 

Article was first placed in TechSmart 132, September 2014. 

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