Rob Parsons

Second Opinion

Getting reader feedback in the era of instant communications

by Rob Parsons

May 21, 2009

We live in a truly miraculous time, when electronic devices that fit in the palm of our hand can connect us with people and events in another room, down the block or halfway around the world.

Since the Syncom 3 satellite was launched in 1964—allowing an American television audience to view experimental relay coverage of the Tokyo Olympics—instant communications have rocketed into our lives at warp speed. Satellite connections facilitate radio, phone, TV, weather reporting and the Internet, while Google Earth provides a Big Brother-like eye in the sky that is equal parts fascinating and creepy.

In February, a U.S. Iridium orbiter, one of 65 such American communications satellites, made news when it slammed into a defunct Russian satellite 500 miles above Siberia, only the fourth collision ever of orbiting manmade objects.

To those who follow celestial influences of another kind, it may be noted that we are in Mercury retrograde until the end of May, meaning that planet is moving away from Earth relative to our orbits around the Sun. The Mercury of Roman mythology was the messenger of the gods and moved with great speed, so it isn't a stretch to invoke his retrogradial motion as playing havoc with communications on Earth, be it on electronic gizmos or interpersonal breakdowns. Even my computer tech support guy acknowledged the propensity for his business to increase during Mercury retrograde, including hard drive crashes, in a sort of astrological manifestation of Murphy's Law.

So, I'm not surprised when messages sent, instantly or otherwise, wind up as garbled as mouthwash.

Every week, my e-mail address appears alongside the articles I submit to this newspaper. Quite often, the subject matter elicits responses from friends and strangers alike. This week was no exception.

The column in question, "We've Got Issues," related how readers frequently offer up suggestions for topics to cover. An e-mail arrived from a longtime Maui resident and tour driver, suggesting, "it's not too much of a stretch to write about how…overpopulation is destroying our Planet Earth."

Not a stretch at all. When one writes an eco-column, it is with the fundamental understanding that the exponential growth of our species is a key factor in environmental stresses and destruction. Overpopulation is a topic I have often brought into the discussion over the past two years.

The e-mail then segued into glaciation, geology, geomorphology and how historical evidence indicates the planet tends to warm up before recurrent cooling and glacial periods every 100,000 years or so. Minerals from rocks ground up by advancing and retreating glaciers, said the writer, allow microorganisms, plants and animals to grow and proliferate.

His message also included a YouTube link to a five-minute montage of scenic Maui photos, syrupy piano music and quotes from A Course in Miracles, with a recommendation to watch it several times.

One slide that particularly caught my attention was a quote by Gary Renard: "Always let other people have their beliefs. It's not necessary to get other people to agree with you."

Simple, yet profound. But how much time and energy do we spend trying to convince others to adopt our belief systems? Can't we all just agree to disagree—or would that mean we're all in agreement?

A second e-mail brought home the point. A reader said he became "apolitical" (apoplectic?) after reading my comments about Alex Jones and the Superferry, and remarked I've become a bit too "yuppified" in my views. (My dictionary tells me that "yuppie," from "young urban professional," has been in our vernacular since the early 1980s, and that "yuppified" would be aspiring to or appealing to such "young affluent residents or consumers.")

Mentioning a one-way fare of $265 he was quoted for a return ticket to Maui after the Superferry was "cancelled," he said: "Thanks for advocating the abolishing of Superferry. I'm sure Hawaiian Air loves you and people like you."

You know, we do have at least three airlines flying inter-island these days, and my last roundtrip to Oahu was under $100.

Regarding talk show host Alex Jones, he stated: "Alex has been 100 percent correct on everything he talks about and only uses mainstream media facts and published documents to back up his statements. In the infowar on for your mind, maybe you've lost the battle."

The message was signed, "Someone who is well informed."

It's been said that we live in the information age. Largely that refers to digital technology, fiber optics, microchips and computers, the aforementioned communications satellites and the global network that is the Internet. At our fingertips, we have a library, TV shows, music stores, newspapers and an ocean of opinions.

Two years ago, keynote Focus Green speaker Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. warned a packed Castle Theater audience of the dangers posed by the mainstream media. The information that reaches us, he said, is controlled by a few powerful corporations, what he termed a "negligent and indolent press."

Advocating media reform over a system that has, in part, hijacked our democracy, Kennedy said that "corporations should not be running our government."

It's worth underscoring that Maui Time Weekly is the only major independent newspaper on our island. Time and again people tell me they pick up this publication to "find out what's really going on," a comment I used to hear about the Haleakala Times, before it was sold and retreated to an online-only format.

The matter of Hawaii Superferry is a prime example of how mainstream media beat the drum for the backers of the proposed fast-ferry operation without looking much beyond company press releases and spin. My mention of the Superferry last week was only parenthetical, an example of when a "conspiracy theory" turns out to be true.

But those who used and enjoyed Hawaii Superferry are as unlikely to agree with me as they are to read Koohan Paik and Jerry Mander's The Superferry Chronicles, which details the government corruption and defense industry connections behind the vessel. Many have resorted to name-calling and bashing the environmental groups they believe caused the Superferry's demise, rather than evaluating information that indicates the Superferry never come close to being economically profitable and was destined to fail.

I never advocated abolishing the Superferry, as my critic claims. I simply offered up information that called into question the viability of and the motives behind the costly and divisive proposed service.

The ferry service that claimed it would bring the islands together instead exposed a rift that still endures, like a bad aftertaste. Perhaps there should be a government appropriation of sorbet to cleanse our collective palates.

(Note: Young Brothers inter-island freight service might also benefit from some "pallet cleansing." After being forced to forfeit and remove their covered shed to accommodate the Superferry, now pallets are left out on the dock, wrapped in layers and layers of plastic that ultimately end up at the central Maui landfill.)

People are so tired of hearing about the Superferry debacle that many are unwilling to absorb new information. But those who remain inquisitive may find a fertile field of inquiry on Akaku, our public access TV station.

Dave Garrison, producer of Noon in Hawaii, recently filmed and released Cross Currents: The Superferry Saga. I helped moderate the discussion with Irene Bowie, Hannah Bernard and Dick Mayer, all extremely articulate and knowledgeable people who can chart the turbulent waters churned up by Hawaii Superferry.

The 14th century Persian poet Hafiz wrote, "Is it true that your mind/ Is sometimes like a battering ram/ Running all through the city/ Shouting so madly inside and out/About ten thousand things/ That do not matter?"

Five hundred years ago Sir Francis Bacon wrote, "Knowledge is power," and that precept has often been quoted since. Yet an overload of information can just as easily be a distraction, over-shadowing other aspects of our nature such as love and compassion.

A need to be right would indicate issues of control and power, while a willingness to allow others to hold their own beliefs emanates from a place of kindness and forgiveness.

As Hafiz put it: "Listen more carefully/ To what is inside of you right now."