The history of flash mobs is quite interesting, especially since it was not started to be a youtube video phenomenon. The first time anything similar to a flash mob was even thought of and described came from a novella, written in 1973, “Flash Crowd” by science fiction writer Larry Niven. In the story, people swarm a highly broadcasted event, using teleportation, and create riots. These groups usually, purposefully, intensify the situation that is currently happening in order to exploit that particular instance, and create mass confusion. The crowds of tele-porters become known as “flash crowds”. This idea sounds eerily similar to what modern flash mobs have become, except they use regular modes of transportation to cause the confusion and event.
The first time that an actual flash mob took place occurred in 2003, as a result of Harper’s Magazine senior editor Bill Wasik. It began with Bill creating an email account named firstname.lastname@example.org and emailing fifty of his friends, as well as himself, inviting them to gather together at a public location with the hopes of confusing others. When later interviewed he said his main purpose for creating these mobs was to poke fun at the ever growing hipster culture and explore the ideas surrounding conformity and people’s need to be apart of “the next big thing”. He was later quoted as saying, “the mobs started as a kind of playful social experiment meant to encourage spontaneity and big gatherings to temporarily take over commercial and public areas simply to show that they could”.
The first mob he tried to organize failed, as the store being targeted discovered the plot. The first flash mob occurred on June 3, 2003 in New York City. To avoid discovery, like the first attempt, Bill emailed everyone to meet at four separate Manhattan bars, creating staging areas where participants were subsequently emailed the location right before the actual event was the take place. The first flash mob occurred in a Macy’s Department Store on the ninth floor rug department, the mob consisted of over 130 people. Together they all sat staring and gathered around an expensive rug. Whenever the group was questioned they were to respond that they were looking for a “love rug” for the warehouse, on the outskirts of New York City, where they all lived together and that when a purchase decision needed to be made they always did it together as one large group. The next part occurred with over 200 people gathering in the lobby and mezzanine level of the Hyatt hotel and participated in fifteen seconds of synchronized applause. The last flash mob occurred at a Soho shoe store where a mob of people entered pretending to be tourists on a bus trip.
After the success of this first mob, major news outlets began to cover the new phenomenon. They found that the success of the event lied with the internets role in organizing the events as well as the participants fun in being apart of the mob. Soon after these first flash mobs, others in major cities around the United States and the World began occurring. Wasik eventually ended the organizing of flash mobs in New York City at the height of their popularity instead of them dying out because of the lack of participation. However, flash mobs have remained popular throughout the world. Instead of being national news events, however, they are now mostly web video phenomenon’s. The videos of these events posted onto video viewing websites has kept this public “performance art” of sorts alive.