Features - April 11th, 2011

The crowdsourced social media creation that became a global phenomenon

“It was a eureka moment,” Our Man in Akibo told a recent press conference. “I stood there tweeting—’I’ve got to get this out there’. The idea took over me. ‘This is the right idea, right now’. My wife said, ‘You might want to get dressed’. So I did and that’s how it started.”

Quakebook is a crowdsourced slice of history, a freely made democratic work of journalism involving digital volunteers on different continents, the true story of ordinary people caught up in a once-in-a millennium disaster, a virtual document set to raise real money—and it could only have happened now, with today’s technology.

In just over a week, a group of professional and citizen journalists collaborated via Twitter to create a book to raise money for Japanese Red Cross earthquake and tsunami relief efforts. One hundred percent of revenues will go to the Japanese Red Cross society.

The 98-page book, titled ‘2:46: Aftershocks: Stories from the Japan Earthquake’ and known on Twitter as ‘#quakebook’ is the brainchild of a Briton who lives in the Tokyo area and blogs under the pseudonym ‘Our Man in Abiko’.

The day after the earthquake and tsunami, Our Man in Abiko wrote on his blog, ”Is there anything you can do? Right now, I’m not sure. But I’ll think of something.”

A few days later, he did think of something. The former journalist put out a call on his blog and via Twitter for art, essays and photographs that reflected first-person accounts of the disaster. He decided he would edit them into a book and donate all the revenues to the Japanese Red Cross Society. Within 15 hours, he had received 74 eyewitness submissions from all over Japan, as well as reactions from elsewhere in Asia, Europe and North America.

In addition to narratives by journalists and people who braved the disaster the book contains writing created specifically for the book by authors William Gibson, Jake Adelstein, and Barry Eisler, as well as artist and musician Yoko Ono.

“The primary goal,” Our Man in Abiko says, “is to raise awareness, and in doing so raise money for the Japanese Red Cross Society to help the thousands of homeless, hungry and cold survivors of the earthquake and tsunami. The biggest frustration for many of us was being unable to help these victims. I don’t have any medical skills, and I’m not a helicopter pilot, but I can edit. I’m doing what I can do.”

“Soon we were working with the world’s biggest ebook distributors and fielding calls from newspapers and television stations on five continents. People around the world are responding to the message of #quakebook [and] I really feel we are on the brink of something amazing,” says Our Man.

“This was impossible 5 years ago; that’s something amazing. People will tell you Twitter is a waste of time, with only 140 characters; this proves it is not a waste of time—you can do amazing things with it.” (WEEKENDER)


Excerpts from “2:46”


“…As the violent trembling continued, everyone huddled together on the sidewalk. The shaking was so bad that all anyone could do was cling to the ground. My son was so scared that he clutched a nearby tree and held on. Street signals and power lines swayed like crazy. It only lasted for a few minutes but it felt like a very long time.

After everything settled, everyone filed back into the clinic. Just as we arrived, an aftershock came. I grabbed my son’s hand and was about to run out again, but I couldn’t find my daughter. I told my son to go out without me. As I headed back inside to search for my daughter, one of the doctors appeared carrying her in his arms. Apparently she’d gone back to get my handbag and coat that I’d left behind.

“I can buy another bag or coat, but I can’t buy another one of you if you die, so just leave those things behind!” I told her.

Finally, after seeing the doctor and picking up our prescriptions, we walked home. CDs and books were strewn about the living room. Our big, old television set had fallen off the shelf. Everything looked so different that the kids were upset. It was getting late and the air was chilly, but we decided to wait in the garage. I turned on the radio to hear that the trains weren’t running. My husband commutes to work by car, so I figured he’d still be able to make it home, but my cell wouldn’t connect, I couldn’t text and the house phone was dead…” Masumi Nabekawa Abiko, Chiba.

“In the midst of all the concern and fear, my wife and I received a bit of very happy news: a photo of my mother- and father-in-law. It was taken by my wife’s high school friend, who made the long and potentially dangerous drive from Tokyo to their hometown in suburban Sendai. The photo shows our teary Mom and Dad smiling, happy and safe. It’s easily the most beautiful photo I’ve ever seen.”

Christopher Maurer Chicago, Illinois, USA

“…My 70-year-old mother refuses to go to a shelter, and insists on staying at home. She says she is not bothered by magnitude 3 earthquakes. Even though the government seems to have forgotten her, she is perfectly calm. What is the government doing? Don’t they care about the people in Fukushima? When people living towards the coast were confronted with the threat of radiation, the whole town decided to evacuate without waiting for government instructions. Nobody in my hometown will evacuate. Why? Almost nobody in the town evacuated. What’s more, they took in people evacuating from the town next-door, so now they feel they can’t evacuate themselves and leave those people behind…” Yuki Watanabe, Tokyo (hometown Tamura)

Download “2:46” for Mac, Windows PC, Kindle, iPhone or Blackberry now: