Networked_Performance

Report from the Inventor of the Flash Mob

Wasik_Crowd.jpg

and Jane McGonigal’s Response

” Not only was the flash mob a vacuous fad; it was, in its very form (pointless aggregation and then dispersal), intended as a metaphor for the hollow hipster culture that spawned it. I know this because I happen to have been the flash mob’s inventor. My association with the fad has heretofore remained semi-anonymous, on a first-name- only basis to all but friends and acquaintances. For more than two years, I concealed my identity for scientific purposes, but now that my experiment is essentially complete, corporate America having fulfilled (albeit a year later than expected) its final phase, I finally feel compelled to offer a report: on the flash mob, its life and times, and its consummation this summer in the clutches of the Ford Motor Company.” From My Crowd: Part 1 Or, Phase 5: A report from the inventor of the flash mob by Bill Wasik [via Interactive Media Division Weblog]

Jane McGonigal’s Letter To the Editor: Bill WasikÂ’s account of the mob project is a fascinating perspective on eight of the thousands of flash mobs that were conducted worldwide in the summer and fall of 2003. However, as one of the San Francisco flash mob organizers, I have to take issue with his article as a definitive account of the phenomenon. Here in San Francisco, for instance, we consciously designed events that would be inclusive and inviting to passersby who hadnÂ’t already received the secret “insider” instructions. When we whirled across a pedestrian crosswalk at a famous cable car stop, the mob grew larger over the course of the 10 minutes as tourists and locals joined in.
It was “transparent play”, not “dark play”—the rules were obvious to anyone who was watching, and there was ample opportunity to become a part of the experience. When we threw a massively multiplayer duck-duck-goose game in a public park, it was obvious to all nearby what we were up to—and that’s why many more people outside of the original network began to play with us. We picked a familiar childhood game so that as diverse a group as possible could jump in and take part. In short, we were explicitly working against what we perceived to be the exclusivity of the East Coast flash mobs. And that, I believe, is the true story of flash mobs—local organizers making their own decisions about which places are appropriate for play, and what kinds of play to design. Wasik invented the bones, the structure, of flash mobs—yes. But independent organizers in their own cities put their own flesh and blood on top of that skeleton. I have been enchanted and delighted by Capetown’s, Bogota’s, Montreal’s, and Warsaw’s interpretations of the flash mob, none of which looked like each other’s and each of which captured the imagination of local residents in their own site-specific, community-specific ways. That’s what makes the phenomenon interesting and meaningful in the long run: the diversity of spontaneous communities making their own public spectacles. Furthermore, I despaired to read Wasik be so dismissive of flash mobs, referring to them as a vacuous and forgettable trend. When I went to Singapore in the summer of 2004 to give a lecture about flash mobs—a lecture that was almost banned by the government because it was deemed a controversial subject matter—I met individuals who were profoundly moved and energized by the fact that three flash mobs had been successfully conducted in Singapore, despite the illegality of organizing more than four people in a public space without formal government permission. And when flash mobs were banned by the legislature in Mumbai, mobbers from all over the world joined together to offer the sole Mumbai organizer online advice and support (eventually, it was decided to move flash mobs to other cities in India.) Of course, I don’t mean to suggest that flash mobs are significant only in so far as they challenged local law. For me, the ultimate meaning lies in the lingering traces flash mob play has left in shared spaces. On more than one occasion, most recently a full two years after the fact, I have walked past the pedestrian crosswalk where we staged our first San Francisco flash mob and witnessed someone else whirling across it. I myself have continued to lead friends in whirling across it. Through our flash mob, we changed the source code of that site; a crosswalk at 4th and Market now frequently serves as a crosswhirl. Maybe I take play too seriously, but I am proud to have been a part of that change. Mr. Wasik, for many cities, flash mobs invigorated its cites and citizens for a great deal longer than the 10 minutes a traditional flash mob lasts. I’m sorry if ultimately that was not the point or the result of the flash mob experience in New York.

Sincerely,

Jane McGonigal


Feb 27, 15:38
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