Connecting the Community

This island is a small community, anything that happens is likely to involve someone you know, or a friend of theirs. There are often only a one to three degrees of separation between you and nearly every event that makes the local news.

Mauna Kea Wreck
A wrecked Toyota pickup truck about a mile below Hale Pohaku
Even someone who has not grown up here seems to become quickly enmeshed in the community… One day I hear news of a body being discovered on a remote Kohala coastline by kayakers. The next day at work I ask Peggi about her husband’s kayak trip… As you guessed, they found the body. This may seem unusual, but here these sort of linked events are commonplace, amplified by the small community effect.

It is amazing how fast information moves from mauka to makai, the grapevine is very well connected on this island. This connectedness is accelerated by social media. Where once you would have to wait hours or days for official confirmation, or a newspaper report, we now know immediately.

There are specific places everyone goes for this type of informations. Two notable Facebook groups cover island happenings, Big Island Thieves and Big Island Popo Alert.

Big Island Thieves was started to ostensibly identify and shame those who steal in this small community. The group has been surprisingly effective at that. Thieves are routinely outed in the posts, stolen vehicles recovered, suspicious activity reported, and 34,579 group members are immediately alerted to keep watch.

So, some DUMBASS just stole my co-workers car here at Abalos Motorworks. a light blue 1991 honda accord! we are all here at the shop & never see anybody take it. UN-FUCKEN-REAL! If anybody sees it on the road right now… PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE contact the police. My co-worker is such a selfless person & hard worker. he literally doesn’t bother nobody. He doesn’t deserve this!!! and this car is probably on its way to puna or kona right now – Jewell Boots – Facebook post to Big Island Thieves – Aug 23, 2017

Immediately after the theft report above several replies were posted, the vehicle spotted in Hilo “driving crazy”, the license plate number confirmed, and the police called. Not sure if this vehicle was recovered, but they often are.

Big Island Thieves now routinely serves a purpose far beyond the stated mission of the group. Theft reports, security cam footage of shoplifters, lost and found pets, found cell phones, road closure information, it can all be found posted here.

Another similar group is Big Island Popo Alert, Popo being island slang for police. This closed group was set up to alert island residents of police activity, speed traps and checkpoints, this group too has evolved into far more. While it still serves the original purpose, there are posts on suspicious activity, scams and scammers, plus alerts on traffic conditions, accidents, and a wide range of other events.

These Facebook groups have become, for many, the quickest way to get information on island happenings. Power outages, fires, and traffic accidents, there are posts within minutes containing details and photos. Want to know what is going on? Just open Facebook!

With tens of thousands of members, these Facebook groups have long ago reached critical mass. The connections reach into nearly every household on the island, every family. This is a connectedness that has real implication for the community, serves a purpose beyond what the group creators intended.

On Thursday August 24th, I kissed my amazing husband Ernest Jackson as he drove off on his new motorcycle to go meet his eldest son and register his new bike. I cleaned up the kitchen and then sat on the couch with my 4 year old daughter to watch the Lion King. As I scrolled through facebook, I came upon a post on this site… it was a video of an accident at the intersection in Pahoa. I saw a man laying on the ground. I saw his bright orange shirt. I saw his jeans, his shoes and I knew it was my husband. Though I am haunted by that image, I am forever grateful to the individual who posted it. Without it, it probably would have been hours before I had known of my husbands death. Because of that video I was able to get to the scene very quickly and be close to him. One of the things that stands out from the video is all the people that were around him. To everyone that jump out of their car, ran to his side and were with him as he passed, I am eternally grateful.

I know there has been discussion and anger over the individual involved in his death. My husband lived his life from a place of love, forgiveness and deep trust in life and its unfoldings. I ask that you turn your awareness to love in his memory. Laugh with your children, hug your spouse, forgive, help a stranger, love yourself and share yourself fearlessly with the world. We have two choices in life… live in love or live in fear. I ask that you all choose love and share it with those around you.
Jenn Jackson – Facebook Post on Big Island Thieves – Sept 3, 2017

While the official press releases and local news reports have names and charges, the unofficial feeds in social media bring events like this to a very personal level. It is no longer abstract, a small article in the newspaper, instead you are faced with a direct connection to those involved.

Saddle Road Wreck
A vehicle rolled into a pasture along Saddle Road near Kilohana
Facebook, reddit, twitter and instagram, these new communications services enable new structures to form. Once isolated societal outcasts, LBGTQ folks, atheists, and various nerds of all flavors, find and form online communities of support and cooperation. With this cooperation new organizations arise to challenge old values and change societal perceptions.

Hate groups and neo-fascists can likewise thrive in online forums, hate and anger festering in self contained, self-reinforcing bubbles of information. We have seen these internet organized movements erupt into our public spaces, changing the subjects of public discourse.

Closer to home small communities form webs of links more connected than ever before. Information moves more quickly than ever before, unfettered by any sort of official filtering or censorship. It becomes a torrent that can be a struggle to organize and make any sense of.

Social media has become an interesting presence in our lives, a connectedness that did not exist before. I wonder about the purpose it serves and how it may affect us, how it may affect our culture in the future. We just do not know yet, we must watch and see, or rather log-in and see.

Author: Andrew

An electrical engineer, amateur astronomer, and diver, living and working on Mauna Kea, Hawai'i.

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