In the 1983 holiday classic, “A Christmas Story,” there’s the famous “triple dog dare” scene in which Schwartz challenges Flick to place his tongue on the school’s flag pole on a wintry December day. Flick initially balks, but complies when Schwartz utters “I triple dog dare you!” Not wanting to be mocked by the crowd, Flick accepts, steps up to the flag pole, puts tongue to metal, and, to his surprise, gets stuck. As he cries for help, the bell rings, ending recess. The boys run back to the school and leave poor Flick behind.

Kids have been daring each other to do things for generations. Games like “Truth or Dare” come to mind. When I was about the age of the boys in “A Christmas Story,” we used to dare each other to swallow ALL of the salt at the bottom of the box of pretzel sticks that we would buy in the school cafeteria. That was a lot of salt! And there was the dare to see how long someone could hold their tongue to a 9-volt battery (ouch!!).

Fast-forward to the 21st Century. Dares and challenges still exist, but they’ve changed quite a bit with the prevalence of social media and mobile devices. With the ability to quickly make short video recordings and post them to your favorite social media platform, challenges go viral. Some are innocuous in nature, and others, like the Ice Bucket Challenge, can actually do some good. According to the ALS Association, the Ice Bucket Challenge raised over $115 million dollars. I had fun participating in that one. Others are much more dangerous in nature and the results are horrifying to watch (just search YouTube).

A recent internet viral challenge was inspired by the movie, “Bird Box,” which appeared on Netflix dropped in December 2018.

WARNING!! I waited until the whole “Bird Box” mania had died down before sharing this post. If you haven’t seen “Bird Box” yet, don’t read any further as I’ll be talking about a key part of the story.

“Bird Box” is based on Josh Malerman’s book of the same name, and tells the story about mysterious beings that terrorize the world. If you look at one, you will either go crazy and kill yourself, or you will go crazy and try to force others to look at them. Either way, the outcome is not good. Civilization collapses and those who manage to survive blindfold themselves so they can’t see the beings, and rely on their other senses in order to get around outside. Sandra Bullock stars in the Netflix film, and there are many scenes in which she is walking, running, or rowing a boat blindfolded as she tries to get herself and two young children (also blindfolded) to a safe haven. There is also a scene in the movie in which Bullock’s character and others drive to a grocery store in a vehicle that has its windows blackened. They rely on the GPS system in the car to provide turn-by-turn directions.

If you haven’t heard, these scenes inspired the “Bird Box Challenge.” Can you guess what people were doing? If you said blindfolding themselves while someone else (presumably not blindfolded) recorded them fumbling around, you would be correct. There are plenty of  videos (just search YouTube, you’ll find them) in which someone stumbles around the kitchen or living room, crashes while riding on something, or attempts to maneuver around outside, all while blindfolded. Nobody was hurt in any of these videos, but the potential was there. It caught the attention of Netflix, which tweeted the following:

netflix_tweet

Apparently, someone out there didn’t see this tweet, probably because they were blindfold at the time, and they took it too far:

bird_box_car_crash

Despite hitting another car and a light post, nobody was hurt, which is extremely fortunate given the circumstances. You can read the story from CNN here.

Why write about this? Why draw attention to it? I certainly don’t advocate getting behind the wheel of a car, or on a scooter, or into/onto any other form of transportation when impaired in any sort of way. I don’t advocate engaging in risky behavior that can put oneself and/or others in danger. I am writing about it because of the impact social media and modern technology has on society, for example, its ability to influence decisions (this was one very interesting facet of my recent graduate studies).

When the “Bird Box Challenge” was still making headlines, I did some research on why people engage in dares, what motivates people to be thrill-seekers or dare-devils. I found some interesting answers. Here is a quote from an article on Quora about why people accept dares:

I think we dare other people because it makes us feel important. Think about it. How special must you be to convince someone else into doing something, for free, with absolutely nothing to gain but possible humiliation even in the process of doing the dare?…And if the person you dared does not do the dare, you can humiliate them by calling them chicken, or some other childish thing. It’s a win win situation…

There’s some perspective for Schwartz’s challenge to Flick, but what about engaging in something more dangerous? Enter social media. Here is an interesting piece from an article I found in The Washington Post about the “Bird Box Challenge”:

As the challenge grew, YouTuber Morgan Adams got more than 2 million views for a “24 hour ‘Bird Box’ challenge” video, in which she and a friend attempt to do a bunch of things (order Popeyes, go to a casino and gamble) while blindfolded. The pair have un-blindfolded chaperones for the entire challenge, who appear to guide and drive them around. The video also contains a couple of moments that would be a bad idea to replicate, like walking blindfolded on an escalator…One enterprising, young member on Instagram combined the “Bird Box” challenge with the also-dangerous “Kiki” challenge, in which you’re supposed to dance alongside a moving car…Viral challenges have a way of encouraging participants to one-up one another in an endless quest for views…

I bolded the parts that I think drive the point home when considering social media’s impact: people who engage in social media want their posts to be liked, they want their moment in the spotlight; they want what Andy Warhol once wrote:

In the future everybody will be world famous for fifteen minutes.

A story in Newsweek supports this sentiment of social media’s power:

…thanks to social media, persuasive people with dumb ideas are now omnipresent and a mere click, tap or swipe away. Add in the appeal of 30 seconds of fame, and some teens are willing to try just about anything. In many cases, the more dangerous it is, the better…

The Newsweek piece delves into what motivates teens to participate in viral internet challenges, essentially the “thrill rush” provided by the release of dopamine in the brain, and the affect dopamine has on the adolescent brain. Here is a longer snippet from that article (I suggest reading it in full):

…The teen brain is compelled to seek out new experiences that help the brain learn, but teens don’t yet have the tools to make rational choices…

…dopamine, the “feel good” neurotransmitter that increases when the brain’s reward system is triggered. Whether the reward is food, sex, money, drugs, retweets, followers or Instagram likes, dopamine functions pretty much the same way. The biological need to feel good compels a person to behave in a way that will provide stimulus and reward. Research has shown that in order for the brain to commit something to memory, dopamine must be present, which essentially means it is needed for the brain to process important information such as don’t light yourself on fire or you might get burned…

…Because it’s flooded with dopamine, the teen brain is driven to seek out constant stimuli and reward… although a tablespoon of cinnamon in a teen’s esophagus might be a miserable experience, the page views, likes and favorites that trigger a rush of dopamine after the teen posts the video means the person may not care about the physical pain…

…social media use peaks just when sensation-seeking behavior starts. According to the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, over 60 percent of 13- to 17-year-olds have at least one social media network profile. In 2015, the Pew Research Center found that 92 percent of teens go online daily and that 24 percent are on “almost constantly.” Teens reach “social maturity” by age 14 to 16, which is academic-speak for “this kid is on every single social media network”—including ones grown-ups probably don’t even know about…

…when it comes to sensation-seeking behavior, teens are equally swayed by unknown peers (such as Instagram influencers) and IRL [“in real life”] friends…

…Amanda Lenhart, a 16-year veteran at Pew, has found one-upmanship is a central part of online behavior for teens. In a 2014 survey that Lenhart helped run, 40 percent of teens said they feel pressure to post content on social media that will get lots of likes and comments…

In essence, it all comes down to the power of the hormone dopamine, colliding with the power of social media to provide an audience, colliding with the rush of receiving attention – the perfect storm for dare-devil behavior.

Humans are social beings. We want to be around others, we want to be liked. We want to be accepted. This urge to be liked and accepted is probably at its strongest in the middle school/high school years, forcing kids to conform, but it certainly doesn’t dissipate completely in adulthood. In order to be accepted into the workforce, adults will pursue the necessary training or education, adopt the dress code, and “behave” like adults in order to get the job they seek, earn an income, and start a career. Some of us still have that dare-devil/thrill-seeking mentality; others are still looking for their 15 minutes, or want it again. With social media and a smartphone, it’s easier than ever to get it.

I watched “Bird Box” and enjoyed it. I have the book on my Goodreads. I look forward to reading it, but I have no desire to don a blindfold and go for a run. Maybe I’m just too old?