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Why are Flash Mobs Fun?

As a result of my posting photos and news from the mobs I’ve attended, I’ve been approached by a number of journalists intersted in Flash Mobs.  Without exception, they are all interested to know if there is any political dimension to Flash Mobs.  In my experience there has not been, and I suspect that most would not attend if there had been any kind of political agenda.  The news hounds are now on unfamiliar ground: “so this is a ‘good news’ story, eh?”  Yup.  “Why do you do it?”  Er - because it’s fun.

After the event

For me, this is a good enough reason—these days I don’t do enough stuff that’s ‘just for fun’.

But I suppose a valid question is: why is this fun?

It’s Good to Belong

The first step at any Flash Mob venue is to go to the venue mentioned in the general invitation and pick up detailed instructions for the event.  My first Flash Mob experience started at Grand Central Station, a daunting place to hook up with someone you’ve never met before.  The invitation had told us we would recognise our contact because s/he would be reading a copy of the New York Review of Books.  So, my first task was to find this person and get them to hand over the detailed briefing.  My mind raced:

Wow - this is like being in a spy movie! Right - stay calm, look relaxed.  There are plenty of people here just hanging around, so I can just hang around too, can’t I?  Hmmm.  I wonder if that guy over there is just hanging around as well?  Is he a mobber?  No evidence of the New York Review of Books.  Let me just go over to that news stand and see if I can eyeball a copy - maybe it’s got a distinctive cover.  Nope - far too high brow to make it onto such precious, high traffic retail space.  Hey - those people are reading little slips of paper - he must be here somewhere!

I then engaged in a little dance with these good people as they attempted to direct me to the mob rep without actually directing me to the mob rep.  If you see what I mean.  A minute later and I found him - nestled at a table in a little cubby hole reading the his pretentious magazine.  There is no way I would have found this guy if it wasn’t for my mysterious friends.  He looked up, smiled and passed me that precious slip of paper that meant: YOU ARE NOW IN THE CLUB.

Try and Catch Us

I do not believe there is any political agenda behind Flash Mobs.  But, they do present a quiet challenge to those ‘in authority’, the challenge being,

“Look, us ordinary folks are going to organise something and we’re not going to ask your permission.  Please don’t worry; there’s really no need because We don’t need your permission.  You see, what we’re going to do is perfectly legitimate and just for fun.  You don’t mind people having fun doing things that are legal, do you?  So, if you wouldn’t mind awfully, do let us get on with our lives.”

This is particularly relevant today when citizens’ private lives are under increasing scrutiny with the inevitable emphasis on monitoring citizens’ e-life: email, use of the web and so on, the very tools that are central to Flash Mobs.

If the police were to check up on us, they’d find a bunch of 20/30 somethings dancing on the spot, applauding politely or making bird noises.  Hardly the stuff of revolution.

Personal Journalism

The internet is at the centre of the way Flash Mobs are organised and one aspect of this is the almost immediate reporting of each event on personal weblogs.  If the internet has given ordinary people the power to publish whatever they want, then weblogs have given them the power to do it instantly.

The Future

After the fourth Flash Mob (my second) where we mobbed a trendy SOHO shoe shop, a reporter asked me if I thought anything had been stolen.  I was shocked—I had to deal with the idea that others could easily turn this innocent prank into a cover for shoplifting.  As it turns out, I heard no actual report of anything being stolen, but there is clearly a risk.  The day hooligans start appearing at Flash Mobs is the day they die.

Some people have suggested using SMS to organise the Flash Mobs.  This could be an interesting development as it would mean the gatherings could be more dispersed at the beginning thereby heightening the “where did they all come from?” effect.  People could gather in the general vicinity waiting for their SMS instructions, rather than gathering in sizeable clumps at one of a handful of bars.  Clearly, more personal preparation would be required for this to work (registering your mobile phone number, etc) but the effect could be worth it.

Another idea that’s been raised is to have a Global Flash Mob.  Quite how this would work is not clear, but perhaps the goal would be to follow the Sun on a specific day with a Flash Mob every hour around the globe.  Somehow linking each mob to the next could be very powerful.  Maybe the London Mob would chant the names of the bars where the New York Mobbers would later meet?  It’s just an idea…..

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