The saddest thing about the ice bucket challenge: When nobody chooses you

Everyone is doing the ice bucket challenge—and I’ve never felt so alone. 


Austin Powell

Internet Culture

Published Aug 21, 2014   Updated May 30, 2021, 5:52 pm CDT

Everyone is doing the ice bucket challenge—and I’ve never felt so alone. 

For those somehow still unfamiliar, the ice bucket challenge is a clever new take on the chain email: Once nominated to take part, you have 24 hours to dump a bucket of ice on yourself, or you’re a terrible person and cursed forever. Basically. 

The challenge aims to raise awareness and research funding for amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, a neurodegenerative ailment commonly referred to as Lou Gehrig’s disease, and to that end, the campaign has been incredibly successful. Donations to the ALS Association have reached a staggering $22.9 million and have come from more than 450,000 new donors. 

It started with a few golfers and has spread like a virus over social media the last week or so. Everyone’s doing it: George W. Bush. Dan Bilzerian. Chris Pratt. The Foo Fighters. Bill Gates. Mark Zuckerberg

I’ve been waiting patiently for my name to be called, to be drafted into what’s become my generation’s greatest hashtag movement. I’ve watched loved ones, friends, colleagues, and distant relatives take the challenge, dousing themselves in water for all of Instagram to see. 

First I thought I was cool for having stayed above the fray. Now I’m not so sure. With each participant passing on the challenge to three new people, surely someone would include me at some point, right? I mean, it’s been weeks now.  

I’ve been checking my phone obsessively, waiting for that familiar buzz of a Facebook notification, or the ping of a Twitter mention. But all to no avail. It’s like waiting to be picked in gym class. 

Suddenly it’s third grade all over again, and all my neighborhood friends from the previous year have moved away. I have an awkward buzz cut and oversized glasses. I’m waiting alone at Schlitterbahn for my dad to pick me up because the kids I came with ditched me in the lazy river.  

Wired has calculated that, with each person nominating three new people to take the challenge every 48 hours, it would take around 35 days for everyone on the planet—all 7 billion people, not including their dogs—to take part in the trend. 


Of course, that will never happen. There are those who will simply never be asked (to say nothing of the millions of people lacking in Internet access). You know who I’m talking about: the Facebook friends whose posts you hide from your feed, the people who tweet boring updates to their 12 followers, the desperate squares who try to connect with everyone they meet on LinkedIn and shell out hundreds for fake followers in an attempt to increase their social clout. 

I just never realized I was one of them. 

The ice bucket challenge is supposed to be inclusive and fun. I should be proud of the friends brave enough to humiliate themselves on social media, even if most of them live in horribly drought-stricken regions. (The satire publication National Report jokingly estimates 33 million gallons of water are being wasted daily in California.)

Instead it’s left me wondering where I went wrong. Have people tired of seeing pictures of my dog, Boris? Are my friends tired of me pushing Spotify playlists on them? Has my work isolated me too much? Have my drunken voicemails lost their endearing charm? 

At this point, I’m not even sure if I’d want to take part. Now, as the trend loses momentum, dumping a bucket of ice over your head is an acknowledgement of defeat. It signals to the world just how low you are in your collective social circle. Has it really taken this long for the challenge to reach you?

I need a nice cold shower. Oh, wait. 

Update: After posting about my ALS FOMO blues on Facebook, I noticed something peculiar on my dad’s Facebook page. He didn’t at-mention me, so I almost missed it. But it’s there—the call to action I’ve been waiting for. 




Thanks dad—for picking me up once again.

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*First Published: Aug 21, 2014, 8:30 am CDT