[17 March 2011]
It started without any pretense or clear definition on Friday, March 11th, with this post:Chris Doran created the group
A week later, Friday, March 18th, 2 a.m., and the group now has 654 posts. It also has a name:“SENDAI EARTHQUAKE FRIENDS & FAMILY LINK
Euan Millar THIS GROUP WAS SET UP TO LINK PEOPLE TO MISSING PEOPLE. It is run by English teachers who work, or used to work, in Sendai and Miyagi. ALL MEMBERS please check locations of missing and provide as much information as you can. First names, Last names, Location (address if possible), link to an image uploaded to your Facebook photos of the missing person. We will do our best with what we have, but the more info you offer, the better.
and a description:
For the first few days, the posts generally adhered to the mission set out above: determining the whereabouts of English teachers, their loved ones, friends, host families, and Japanese colleagues throughout the afflicted areas: in Sendai city proper, but also along the coast—particularly Kesennuma, Ishinomaki, Matsushima, and Shiogama. As information came in, statuses were updated on this Google doc.
By yesterday, as night gave way to morning, one post captured the success of these efforts by summarizing the remaining uncertainties: five missing from Ishinomaki, three from Kesennuma, four from Minami Sendai, six from Matsushima, five from Shiogama, one from Izumi, two from Wakabayashi, five from Sendai, eight from “Elsewhere” and three designated as “location unknown”.
Calls for assistance have come in the form of YouTube embeds:
as well as names and photographs:
Evidence of a community, seeking closure; hoping to locate every last name on the list; desperately hoping that all are well.
But the community is not only an exemplar of utility. It also is a study of spontaneous, engineered community under conditions of crisis. For technologists and sociologists, it is also a case of adaptation and perfectability on the fly. For instance, in early posts, the community struggled to work through the kinks. For instance, according to one post:Joshua MS Yeah I’ve been having problems with this page too. Looks like Facebook group pages aren’t designed to have this much activity. Getting a lot of “script errors” which feel like ajaxy server overload since there are so many of us updating at ...once.
In time, Joshua recommended starting a Wiki (and, in fact, this one was quickly created by someone in Seattle, and proved to be exceptionally helpful), as well as a Twitter project, which was quickly explained in a subsequent post by Iain Campbell:
The Twitter Project:
If you want to help us from abroad I have a task for you!
Twitter can be an effective way to get up-to-date information on this crisis, but in order to organize it we need to organize some key word hash tags.
As far as I understand it, if we organize key hash tags, people will be able to scour twitter more effectively for their loved ones and for updated information.
After this, Campbell identified a set of potential hashes and then asked people to create hashmarks after picking plots off a grid downloadable from a dropbox account that had been established.
Such efforts underscoring the degree to which social media and web-based tools could prove instrumental in facilitating group action on the ground.
Beyond the narrow mission of search and determine, the FB group has served to advance other forms of collective action. This includes:
As a unity, these posts suggest that, while far from normalized, with each passing hour a certain stability and order is settling in. That normalization is due, in no small part, to the multi-pronged efforts of this impromptu group.
The group members—generally foreigners, many who have only a tenuous understanding of the greater language community and larger events enveloping them—have effectively marshaled their energy, pooled their resources, and taken advantage of available tools to connect, communicate, cooperate and better their difficult, often dire, conditions.
If nothing else, this experience underscores one of the few truths I have learned about humans: character is measured and proven in response to crisis. And while the crisis is far from over; it is reassuring to know that the courageous, cooperative character of those afflicted shows no sign of abating.
Published at: http://www.popmatters.com/pm/post/138330-/