One online encyclopedia (yes, I am a Wikiholic) describes a flash mob as:
a group of people who assemble suddenly in a public place, perform an unusual and seemingly pointless act for a brief time, then quickly disperse, often for the purposes of entertainment, satire, and artistic expression…”
The dubious honor of inventing flash mobbing belongs to Bill Wasik, the senior editor of Harper’s. He claimed the idea appealed to him as an oddball social experiment, as well as holding the promise of potential notoriety for him being credited with starting the next big thing. Ironically, it kinda worked.
On June 17, 2003 Wasik employed nascent social media networking to arrange for about 150 people to meet at four staging areas in Manhattan bars. There they received their mission, and proceeded to converge on a specific locale, namely a particular rug in the furnishing department on the ninth floor of Macy’s.
The atmosphere was electric as this bevy of strangers suppressed knowing smiles and did their best to maintain a poker face as they each answered the repeated question of the sales assistants. Whenever they were asked what they needed or if they could be helped, each of the flash mobbers simply explained that they were all part of a commune that occupied a bare warehouse, and that they were collectively deciding on a “love rug” that they all liked.
And then, as suddenly as the mob had convened, it dissipated like a colony of startled ants disgorged from the department store and vanished into the anonymity of New York City’s sidewalks.
What is the point of all that effort and co-ordination, you may be excused for predictably asking. The answer is: nothing. And that’s the point.
The term “flash mob” was added to the 11th edition of the Concise Oxford English Dictionary, whose definition included the distinctive of this crowding as being “unusual and pointless” as opposed to purposeful public gatherings, like protests.
There is another spontaneous crowd formation in history that seemed pointless to some observers, but in reality was the most meaningful public gathering in human history.