Impromptu pillow fights erupting in New York City streets; disco dancing in the London Underground; the “Hallelujah Chorus” resounding through a small-town shopping mall. Strung together, these events might sound peculiar, but they do have something in common. They're all examples of one of social media's biggest trends of the last decade: The flash mob.
Wikipedia states: A flash mob is a group of people who assemble suddenly in a public place, perform an unusual and sometimes seemingly pointless act for a brief time, then disperse, often for the purposes of entertainment and/or satire.
Internet correspondence and mobile messaging give pranksters the “where, when and how,” and the rest is history. These whimsical, pseudo-improvisational gatherings have infiltrated the world stage with mob occurrences on almost every continent.
The first reported flash mob to be born out of the technological world came in 2003.
A New York City resident sent 50 e-mails with the idea of assembling in Macy's furniture department and making bizarre requests for a non-existent item, the “love rug.” Over 100 people converged upon the department store, and now, almost a decade later, this resident (“Bill”) is still widely acknowledged as the flash mob boss.
“I called ours 'inexplicable mobs',” Bill told CNN. “For some people, it is purely funny. For others, it is social – they like being out with people. For others, it is political – just getting out in the streets is a political act. I personally like it because it is aesthetic – I love seeing all the people come together, seemingly out of nowhere.”
Maybe you've been one of the commuters or unsuspecting shoppers bewildered at an en-mass outburst of choreography or song. Chances are you've at least seen footage on the web; with technological advances such as video messaging, spectators can record and upload the fun. Mob videos often go viral on YouTube with millions of hits and counting.
Flash mobs have also made their way to the television airwaves, through ample news coverage and an onslaught of mob-themed advertisements from wireless companies eager to marry themselves to the mobs.
The most famous mob commercial to date had a simple, moving concept: No-frills footage of a colossal mob in a public venue doing a montage of choreography (everything from hip-hop to waltzing to disco to the mashed potato), and the hundreds of smiling and shouting onlookers around them, followed by the tag line “Life's for sharing.”
Another more satirical advertisement has a man touting Broadway-style moves and shouting in a crowded station for several moments before realizing he's dancing solo. He suddenly receives a text message alerting him that the flash mob has been postponed 30 minutes, and ends up with egg on his face. “Don't be the last to know,” appears onscreen, before the ad promises faster connectivity speeds than the company's competitors.
While these types may garner the most media attention, ideas for mobs aren't just limited to the song-and-dance variety. Notable flash mobs have included synchronized swimming routines in public fountains, subway cars filled with people without their pants and a massive group descending upon a Best Buy dressed identically to the store's staff. One recent mob had jockeys and women in fancy hats showing up to a busy carousel in a park and turning the children's ride into a “real horse race” including faking a news interview with the winning child.
Mobs can also make a social statement with roots in the “beat happenings” and Situationist art projects of the 1960s and 70s. Orchestras have extempore performances to bring awareness to the arts. Elementary school students flash mobbed in an anti-bullying campaign, and even sign language interpreters have staged silent mobs to draw interest to their cause.
Whether sharing a civil message or spreading some joy, the most enchanting part of the mob madness may be that anyone can participate, even you. This has become an infectious and formidable form of “do-it-yourself” entertainment. There are plenty of mob groups seeking participants such as “Improv Everywhere”(http://improveverywhere.com), a New York City-area group that sends out subscriber e-newsletters inviting you to partake in their next mob adventure.
If you have your own great idea, pick a time and place, get connected, get together and flash on.