Definition

flash mob

A flash mob is a group of strangers who organize themselves, using electronic media such as cell phones or the Internet, to gather together in a public place, behave in a predetermined manner for a predetermined amount of time, and then quickly disperse.

A successful flash mob event depends on the element of surprise. Participants, called mobsters, share news about the time and place for an upcoming event through postings on blogs, chain e-mail messages, SMS text messages and social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter.

Bill Wasik, senior editor of ,Harper's Magazine, orchestrated the first successful flash mob in June 2003 at Macy's department store. A group of 100 people received instructions to gather at one of four staging areas. Further directions led them to the store's rug department, where they told employees they lived together and were shopping for a "love rug."

Waslik's subsequent flash mobs included one group applauding for 15 seconds in the lobby and mezzanine of the Hyatt hotel and another group pretending to be tourists from Maryland in a SoHo shoe store. It wasn't until June 2006, when Wasik published an article about his flash mobs in Harper's, that their source was publicly known. According to Wasik, he created the flash mob, at least in part, "as a stunt that would satirize scenester-y gatherings."

Since then, flash mobs have been organized by many people, for many purposes, all over the world. Flash mobs have included:

  • Zombie walks in various cities around the world.
  • A protest against a third runway at Heathrow Airport in London.
  • Mob pillow fights, known as Pillow Fight Club gatherings.
  • Distribution of clothing to the homeless on Vancouver's Downtown Eastside.
  • A large group dancing to music broadcast over the public address system in a London underground station, created for a T-Mobile ad.

According to Howard Rheingold, author of "The Virtual Community" and "Smart Mobs: The Next Social Revolution," flash mobs are not just a passing fad but are a demonstration of the "ability for groups of people to organize collective action in the face-to-face world, in ways that they were unable to do before the combination of the Internet and mobile telephones made it possible."

Contributor(s): Paul Gillin
This was last updated in January 2009
Posted by: Margaret Rouse

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