Flash Mobs

(Please note, because of the time that has passed since I wrote this article, it may no longer reflect my current views or the most accurate and complete information available on this subject.)

Flash mobs are large groups of people who assemble suddenly in a public place to perform an unexpected action, and then quickly disperse. For example, here's a mob hitting New York City:

Flash mobs are interesting to me for a few reasons:

They're usually groups of strangers who don't necessarily have anything else in common, coming together to do something out of the ordinary for just a few moments.

They tend not to be activists protesting anything, and generally aren't trying to make any particular statement beyond an artistic one.

Participants in flash mobs make themselves vulnerable to the surrounding passers-by. In the "freeze frame" versions, they're sometimes photographed, touched, pushed, even hit. But they are putting themselves out there to be a part of something bigger than what one person can do alone.

Most notable is the wide range of reactions that the mobs get from those who aren't in on the action. Some people have that "wow, is this the end of the world?" look on their faces, while others are just in gleeful awe that their understanding of the space around them has been challenged. Still others go about their business, pretending not to notice, or in some cases, are actually oblivious.

I'd like to think that I'm aware enough of what's going on in the world around me that if all of the sudden people stopped moving in mass numbers in a public space, I would notice. (Depending on which M. Night Shyamalan movie I'd seen recently, I might also run like hell.)  I also really appreciate the notion of creating something totally unexpected, something that redefines reality, even if just a little bit.

As we head into Election Day here in the U.S., I find it worth thinking about the power of mobs of strangers to create unexpected outcomes in our public life, and the choices that the people around them make about whether or not to notice, or to care.

What part will you play?

You can watch more Flash mobs on YouTube.

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