E-Mail Mobs Materialize All Over

Paul Mobbs mobbsey at gn.apc.org
Sat Jul 5 22:25:03 BST 2003

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E-Mail Mobs Materialize All Over

WIRED: 02:00 AM Jul. 05, 2003 PT

Inexplicable "flash mobs" are starting to form all over.

Begun in New York City, the gatherings are popping up in San Francisco,
Minneapolis and suburban New York City, just north of the city. There also is
talk of launching a similar group in London.

Flash mobs [http://www.wired.com/news/culture/0,1284,59297,00.html] are
performance art projects involving large groups of people. Mobilized by
e-mail, a mob suddenly materializes in a public place, acts out according to
some loose instructions, and then melts away as quickly as it formed.

In New York, the city's finest turned out in force to block the city's third
mob gathering last Wednesday evening.

Set to gather at 7 p.m. at Grand Central Station for what promised to be an
elaborate "mob ballet," the crowd of about 250 was greeted by a "huge" police
presence, according to the Mob Project's anonymous organizer known only as

Bill said the mob moved to the Grand Hyatt next door instead. The crowd walked
quietly upstairs to the hotel's mezzanine and gathered shoulder-to-shoulder
around the balcony.

"At 7:12, we burst into thunderous, screaming applause for 15 seconds, and
then dispersed, just as police cars came screaming around the corner to where
we were," said Bill. "It was fabulous."

In Minneapolis, a mob is planning to gather at an as-yet-undisclosed location
on July 22 at 6:25 p.m., according to the group's organizer, who asked to
remain anonymous.

The organizer said he has created a list of ideas, scripts and potential
locations for mob events, but is worried about the gatherings getting out of

"The problem with mob events is getting the event at a location that won't
cause a problem," the organizer said. "In Minneapolis, mobs have a real bad
connotation. People think about the Minnesota Gopher hockey team and the
carnage that resulted from just taking part in a hockey tournament. The last
thing we want to see is an unruly mob event."

For the last two years, Gopher fans have rioted in Minneapolis after NCAA
championship games.

"As long as we keep it brief and covert, I see little problem with the event,"
the organizer added.

The Minneapolis mob has a discussion list at Yahoo.

In San Francisco, a mob event is promised in "the next few weeks," according
to organizer Rob Zazueta.

Zazueta, a 28-year-old Web developer who works in the city, said nearly 200
people have signed up for the mailing list. Unlike the NYC mob, which is an
invite-only affair, the San Francisco mob is open to one and all.

"I didn't want it to be an exclusive group," Zazueta explained. "And besides,
the more the merrier."

Zazueta said the nature of the gathering has not yet been decided, but he's
leaning toward some kind of collaborative art project.

"I don't think there's a lot of sustainability to prankish mobs," he said.
"They will have to be ever-increasingly clever to get people to attend and,
eventually, I think some folks might just get bored with them. This is why
I'm trying to think along the lines of organizing around an action or a
creative activity."

Zazueta also is working on a website for groups in other cities hoping to
organize their own mob projects. (The site is not yet live).

"There's a real desire for something like this out there," he said. "Community
has always been a big buzzword in the Web space, and I think the smart mob
concept helps to bring the virtual community into real space. No matter how
good our devices become at allowing us to communicate, I think we're always
going to need some real face time with folks."

NYC's Mob Project organizer Bill said he was pleased with the ever-growing
turnout. The attraction, he said, was that the events are part social, part
political, even though the gatherings are expressly apolitical.

"There seems to be something inherently political about an inexplicable mob,"
he said. "People feel like there's nothing but order everywhere -- even
crowds these days are forecast and managed -- and so they love to be a part
of just one thing that nobody was expecting."

Sean Savage, a 31-year-old San Francisco designer and weblogger who has
followed flash mobs, said these kinds of semi-anarchic gatherings have roots
that go at least as far back as the late 1970s.

Savage said San Francisco groups like the Suicide Club and the Cacophony
Society have been staging group pranks in the city for decades, while Santa
Rampage has been an annual San Francisco tradition for nearly a decade and
has spread to more than 15 cities worldwide.

"There's a vague, growing interest in grass-roots activity that transcends
more traditional institutions," Savage said. "(They) prove people can still
form ad hoc communities and make things happen that are beyond the reach of
the gigantic, corrupt corporate and governmental powers that seem to dominate
so much of modern life. But maybe I'm reading too much into it."

- --

"We are not for names, nor men, nor titles of Government, nor are we for
this party nor against the other but we are for justice and mercy and
truth and peace and true freedom, that these may be exalted in our nation,
and that goodness, righteousness, meekness, temperance, peace and unity
with God, and with one another, that these things may abound."
(Edward Burroughs, 1659 - from 'Quaker Faith and Practice')

Paul Mobbs, Mobbs' Environmental Investigations,
3 Grosvenor Road, Banbury OX16 5HN, England
tel./fax (+44/0)1295 261864

email - mobbsey at gn.apc.org
website - http://www.fraw.org.uk/mobbsey.html
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