A flash mob
is a large group of people who assemble suddenly in a public place
, perform an unusual action for a brief time, then quickly disperse.
The first flash mob
The first flash mob was created in Manhattan
in May 2003, by Bill Wasik
, senior editor of Harper's Magazine
. The origins of the flash mobs were unknown until Wasik published an article about his creation in the March 2006 edition of Harper's
. The first attempt was unsuccessful after the targeted retail store was tipped off about the plan for people to gather. Wasik avoided such problems during the second flash mob, which occurred in June 3
department store, by sending participants to preliminary staging areas—in four prearranged Manhattan
bars—where they received further instructions about the ultimate event and location just before the event began.
More than one hundred people converged upon the ninth floor rug department of the store, gathering around an expensive rug. Anyone approached by a sales assistant was advised to say that the gatherers lived together in a warehouse on the outskirts of New York, that they were shopping for a "love rug", and that they made all their purchase decisions as a group.
Subsequently, 200 people flooded the lobby and mezzanine of the Hyatt hotel in synchronized applause for about fifteen seconds, and a shoe boutique in SoHo was invaded by participants pretending to be tourists on a bus trip.
Wasik claimed that he created flash mobs as a social experiment designed to poke fun at hipsters and to highlight the cultural atmosphere of conformity and of wanting to be an insider or part of "the next big thing." The Vancouver Sun wrote, "It may have backfired on him... [Wasik] may instead have ended up giving conformity a vehicle that allowed it to appear nonconforming."
Flash mobs began as a form of performance art
. While they started as an apolitical act, flash mobs may share superficial similarities to political demonstrations
. Flash mobs can be seen as a specialized form of smart mob
, which is a term and concept forwarded by author Howard Rheingold
in his 2002 book Smart Mobs: The Next Social Revolution
In 1973, the story "Flash Crowd
" by Larry Niven
described a concept similar to flash mobs. With the invention of popular teleportation
, an argument at a shopping mall – which happens to be covered by a news crew – quickly swells into a riot. In the story, broadcast coverage attracts the attention of other people, who use the widely available technology of the teleportation booth to swarm first that event – thus intensifying the riot – and then other events as they happen. Commenting on the social impact of such mobs, one character (articulating the police view) says, "We call them flash crowds, and we watch for them."
Use of the term
The first recorded use of the term flash mob
was in 2003 in a blog entry posted in the aftermath of Wasik's event. The term was inspired by the earlier term smart mob
Webster's New Millennium Dictionary of English defines flash mob as “a group of people who organize on the Internet and then quickly assemble in a public place, do something bizarre, and disperse.” This definition is consistent with the original use of the term; however, both news media and promoters have subsequently used the term to refer to any form of smart mob, including political protests; a collaborative Internet denial of service attack; a collaborative supercomputing demonstration; and promotional appearances by a pop musician. The press has also used the term flash mob to refer a practice being used in China where groups of shoppers arrange online to meet at a store at the same time in order to drive a collective bargain with the store owner.
In 1800s Tasmania
, the term flash mob
was used to describe a subculture consisting of female prisoners, based on the term flash language
for the jargon that these women used. The 1800s Australian term flash mob
referred to a segment of society, not an event, and showed no other similarities to the modern term flash mob
or the events it describes.
Notable flash mobs
Worldwide Pillow Fight Day
Worldwide Pillow Fight Day (or International Pillow Fight Day) was a pillow fight flash mob
that took place on March 22
. Over 25 cities around the globe participated in the first "international flash mob", which was the world's largest flash mob to date. According to The Wall Street Journal
, over 5,000 participants participated in New York City
, overtaking London
's 2006 Silent Disco
gathering as the largest recorded flash mob. Word spread via social networking sites, including Facebook
, private blogs
, public forums, and personal websites. Participating cities included Beirut
, Los Angeles
, New York City
, San Francisco
, Washington, D.C.
Geocaching World Wide Flash Mob
The increasingly popular hobby of geocaching
developed a twice/year event in 2007
called "World Wide Flash Mob", held in the spring
and the fall
. Players active in geocaching
are encouraged to develop events that produce a quick flash mob complete with an event booth and group photo that instanly disperses after 15 minutes. A unique aspect is that these flash mob events occur simultaneously around the world at the same day and time (1:00-1:15 PM Eastern time and simultaneously in other times zones, i.e. in London
it would be held at 6:00-6:15pm, in San Francisco
it would be held at 10:00-10:15am, etc.).
The next such event is scheduled to happen on November 8, 2008. As an example, three such simultaneous events are planned within the New York Metropolitan Area, in Valhalla and Babylon, NY and in Edison, NJ.