Stunts involving 'mob' silliness latest e-mail craze
Fort Worth Star-Telegram
Aug. 1, 2003 08:30 AM
DALLAS - Flash mobbing arrived in Dallas Thursday night - fittingly, outside the trendy Angelika Film Center & Caf.
At 7:43 p.m. about 40 people gathered, splitting into groups under two balloons, one red, one blue. The red mob began yelling "Marco!" and the blue mob replied "Polo!" After about a minute of call and response, the two balloons were released, and the mobbers - OK, pranksters - broke into applause.
Ten seconds later, the group, known as TheMobProjectDFW, scattered like cockroaches when the lights come on.
All for the sake of silliness.
"It seems really weird and stupid, but I guess that was the point of it," said Alex Goldberg, who works at the Angelika.
Flash mobbing was first noticed in New York a couple of months ago, born in the minds of mischevious Internet cyber-types, and has spread quickly from Manhattan to Minneapolis to San Francisco.
Via e-mail, the mobbers arrange to perform bizarre, non-violent acts at a selected spot, then quickly disperse. It gives a whole new meaning to the First Amendment right "of the people peaceably to assemble."
The Dallas mob was formed July 22 as a Yahoo! user group by 20-year-old Matt Flick of Dallas. By Thursday, about 190 members had joined the mob.
After Thursday's gathering, called Mob DFW, Flick declared the project a success.
"We're not disappointed by the turnout," Flick said. "It'll only get bigger, we think, judging by what happened in other cities."
Other mob participants could not be reached to comment - they were gone in a flash.
Reports of recent flash mobbings elsewhere include:
- Manhattan, where more than 250 strangers at a Hyatt Hotel burst into 15 seconds of applause, then all departed in different directions.
- San Francisco, where about 150 strangers met on busy Market Street, spun around in circles for 10 minutes, and disappeared.
- The Mall of America in Minneapolis, where about 50 people started moving like robots outside a Sears store for five minutes, baffling spectators. They then went to a nearby electronics store to watch "Lord of the Rings" on a plasma-screen TV for five minutes.
Flash mobs also have been reported in the last month in Italy, England, and Germany.
The Dallas mobbers were instructed to meet at one of four locations, based on birth dates, near the regional rail's Mockingbird Station by 7:15 p.m. Thursday. There, they were to receive more information from a person wearing a red hat and white shirt.
At one location, a man in a white hat and red shirt appeared. When approached, he handed out slips of paper that read, "Go sit back down. You're looking for someone in a white shirt and red hat."
But shortly after 7:15, progress was made. A person wearing a red hat and white shirt began handing out notes, telling mobbers that the Angelika was the spot and that "Marco Polo" would be the method of madness.
Twenty-seven minutes later, the mobbing began.
One bystander who was standing near the Angelika with two children said she was initially scared by the sudden cluster of mobbers.
"It just seemed silly by the end," she said.
So far, flash mobs have claimed to be apolitical, but that could soon change. What started as a prank could blossom into a social revolution, according to Internet watcher Harold Rheingold, author of "Smart Mobs: The Next Social Revolution."
"Right now, it's just people wanting to do something silly and it's not hurting anybody, so what's the harm?" Rheingold said in a telephone interview
from Mill Valley, Calif. "But it shouldn't come as a surprise when this becomes a major outlet of political activism soon as well."
Rheingold's book outlined the use of wireless technology in helping people around the world organize. As an example, he cited the use of cell phones and pagers by activists who demonstrated against the World Trade Organization in Seattle in 1999.
While Rheingold said he was amused by the latest reincarnation of this phenomenon, he believes it is proof of a more significant movement.
"The 2004 elections are going to be a watershed moment. The use of text messaging and mobile communications will be pivotal in get-out-the-vote drives. It will allow groups to disperse the resources most efficiently in the days before the election."
Rheingold said he was not surprised that the trend has spread so quickly.
"The Internet as a medium to organize these actions is also the same medium that's spreading the message, so it's working as a self-reinforcing phenomenon," he said.