June 16, 2003
Flash Mobs Take Manhattan

Our senior Manhattan correspondent David Danzig reports that New Yorkers are using e-mail to coordinate "inexplicable mobs" — huge crowds that materialize in public places and suddenly dissipate 10 minutes later.

National Public Radio's "The Next Big Thing" briefly covered the first such mob — here's that coverage in RealAudio format.

Below I've pasted the e-mail announcement for the next mob, scheduled to take place Tuesday, June 17, 2003.

UPDATE: Be sure not to miss the photos of the event.

---------- Forwarded message ----------
Date: Mon, 16 Jun 2003 15:56:33 -0000

MOB #1 made National Public Radio! Go to
http://www.nextbigthing.org and scroll down to
the last clip.

You are invited to take part in MOB, the project that
creates an inexplicable mob of people in New York City
for ten minutes or less. Please forward this to other
people you know who might like to join.

At the very least, please forward this to all those to
whom you sent the invitation for MOB #1, because
someone seems to have gotten the wrong impression
about the MOB. I am thinking, in particular, of
whoever saw it necessary to tell the store and/or the
police department about MOB #1, causing SIX POLICE
OFFICERS AND A PADDYWAGON to be sent out to disrupt
it. Let us call this person "Squealy."

SQUEALY FAQ (all others may skip to INSTRUCTIONS -
MOB #2)

Q: I am uncomfortable with innocent fun.

A. It seems apparent.

Q. Couldn't the MOB have gotten out of hand?

A. No. I assure you: the MOB will always be
respectful, no matter how large it gets, or what it
might chant, etc.

Q. Despite this honest assurance, my stifling fear of
the unknown dictates that I squeal again.

A. Unfortunately, I have been forced to take this
possibility into account in the instructions for MOB

Location: ???????
Start time: Tuesday, June 17th, 7:27 pm
Duration: 10 minutes

(1) At some point during the day on June 17th,
synchronize your watch to
(If that site doesnmt work for you, try
(2) By 7 PM, based on the month of your birth, please
situate yourselves in the bars below. Buy a drink and
act casual. NOTE: if you are attending the MOB with
friends, you may all meet in the same bar, so long as
at least one of you has the correct birth month for
that bar.
January, February, March: Blarney Rock, 137 W.
33rd St. (between 6th and 7th Aves.) Meet to the left
of the jukebox.
April, May, June: Holiday Inn, 49 W. 32nd St.
(just east of Broadway). Walk into the hotel lobby and
make a left into the hotel bar; meet around the bar to
the right, near the framed prints of the elephant and
the leopard.
July, August, September: Blarney Stone (not to
be confused with Blarney Rock), 106 W. 32nd St.
(between 6th and 7th Aves.). Meet in the back by the
October, November, December: Jack Demsey's, 36
W. 33rd St. (between Broadway and 5th Ave.) Meet
downstairs, near the bar behind the pool table.

(3) Then or soon thereafter, a MOB representative will
appear in the bar, wearing one of the "trucker hats"
that is so stylish these days. He or she will pass
around slips of paper, on which three important pieces
of information will be printed: (a) the MOB site, (b)
a particular item at the site, and (c) a secret
phrase. Commit all three to memory and put the slip in

(4) Leave the bar and walk to the MOB site as quickly
as possible. It will take you longer to get there than
you think. If you arrive near the final MOB
destination before 7:27, stall nearby. NO ONE SHOULD

(5) Find the item and stand around it. Unlike in MOB
#1, where the participants were not to acknowledge one
another, here you should greet even those you do not
know. Talk among yourselves about the item and its
relative merits and demerits. Only if you are blocked
from seeing the item should you stray to examine other
merchandise at the site.

(6) If you are approached by a salesperson, explain
that everyone present lives together, in a huge
converted warehouse in Long Island City, and that you
are there looking for a "[secret phrase]." Explain
that you make all purchases as a group.

(7) At 7:37 you should disperse. Thank the salespeople
for their help, but explain that the item has been

(8) Return to what you would otherwise have been
doing. Await instructions for MOB #3.

SPECIAL NOTE: A few people may be allowed to learn the
three secret facts in advance. Those interested should
write an essay of precisely 50 words on the subject of
"Why I Am Not a Squealer," and send it to

Filed under ideas at 01:04 PM | TrackBack (42)



Posted by: Steven on June 17, 2003 06:50 AM

Did it go ahead?

Posted by: Mike Mc on June 17, 2003 08:16 AM

beautiful! makes me regret moving to boston.

Posted by: eric on June 17, 2003 09:54 AM

Hail Eris! Hail Discordia! This is wonderful! Fnord!

Revevan High Priest POEE

Posted by: Evan on June 17, 2003 12:34 PM

I can't make MOB #2 tonight -- will I be able to return here for instruction for MOB #3? I would like to show my support!

(Or, where do I go for the source of MOB info?)

Posted by: Jeff on June 17, 2003 01:37 PM

this cannot endure. it will be infiltrated by some dispicable arm of the establisment, and founder in a hail of negative publicity, and trash talk about constitutional freedom to assemble. warrants will be issued. permits, notwithstanding, arrests will be made. fun is a crime and we all must pay the penalty. now i dont say that with a bit of courage and ingenuity these stumbleblocks cannot be overcome... the next level will and must be reached. this is the beginning of freedom.

Posted by: zeronumber on June 17, 2003 01:47 PM

smart mob!

Posted by: dave on June 17, 2003 01:56 PM

Jeff: The whole beauty of an event like this is that it's decentralized. I did not create this event and I won't even be there -- I'm in California. But I was forwarded this e-mail, which I posted on my weblog because it's interesting. (Take note of that, authorities.) Even if the person who wrote that first e-mail is run over by a blimp, everyone else will take the reins and the happening will keep happening.

I will post rumors of future flash mobs here if someone tells me about them. But you don't have to count on me. Hook up with a few other people involved in the movement out there in New York, ask them to keep you updated. And if overly-paranoid authorities shut down one information outlet, you can always search the Net for other sources of the same information.

zeronumber: This -can- endure. Events like this (although never precisely like this) have been going on in San Francisco for decades. Now computer-mediated communication makes organizing and participating in such efforts easier than ever. Soon, location-aware computing will boost our powers of spontaneous group activity and will make such freedoms harder for authorities to trace and control.

Posted by: sean@cheesebikini.com on June 17, 2003 02:06 PM

This would be an awesome capability for grassroots political protestors to develop.

Having practiced assembling and dispersing in ten minutes under non-stressful situations (retailers), apply this skill to protesting at government buildings, downtown near statues, etc.

Now, instead of large, scheduled protests, you have large, unscheduled protests -- whose members are indistinguishable from the general public until it's time.

Voila: guerilla protests.

I suggest that a future item be a coffee grinder at a Starbucks.

Posted by: Richard Soderberg on June 17, 2003 02:29 PM

going broadcast

Posted by: on June 17, 2003 04:20 PM

For some reason, this has a William Gibson flavor to it.....

Posted by: Jeremy on June 17, 2003 05:05 PM

eric: Stay tuned. We may do things a bit differently up here in Beantown, but, this is the birthplace of hacking, after all (in its original, MIT meaning).

Stay well-tuned.


Posted by: Wintermute on June 17, 2003 05:26 PM

Damn. Got held up by the trains and arrived 2 minutes too late for the info-drop. The zone back by the jukebox fairly rang with emptiness--a palpable "dude, they just left" kind of vibe. Don't know where they went, but I hope they had a good time.

How do I get meself on the mailing list?

Posted by: Andrew on June 17, 2003 05:28 PM

it is only a matter of time before someone will use this as a an occasion for malicious mischief. bomb perhaps? target perhaps? there are ends where means are appropriated.

Posted by: zeronumber on June 17, 2003 05:34 PM

Someone should set up stuff like this in other cities! It sounds like fun.

Posted by: yeahright on June 17, 2003 10:57 PM

Hey, this is close to Milgram's Cyranoids!

See: build a borg

If everyone had a single conference call on cellphones, then a single "leader" can command the "symphony orchestra"

Posted by: Bill Beaty on June 18, 2003 03:32 AM

Stuff like this has been going on for decades at least. San Francisco is widely regarded as ground zero for the recent generation's wave of American situationist activity. See www.cacophony.org (you may already be a member). I have the feeling it could easily be traced back to the european Situationists of the early 1900's though.

Posted by: Dav on June 18, 2003 03:38 AM

Blogged it, with appropriate reference to Niven's "flash crowd" concept. Great stuff!

Posted by: Jay Manifold on June 18, 2003 04:32 AM

what emerges from these inspecific duplex reality manipulations take ? If I wasn't in England I'd be there observing. How about associating the experience with a smell!

Posted by: Rige on June 18, 2003 09:29 AM

Reminds me a little of the Knighthood of BUH's peasant mob event (linked to), which was a lot more staged, but evoked the same sort of reaction and sentiment.

Posted by: george on June 18, 2003 02:31 PM

Bill Beaty said:
Stuff like this has been going on for decades at least. I have the feeling it could easily be traced back to the european Situationists of the early 1900's though.


I suspect that stuff like this has been happening for all of human history. I also don't think that groups who do stuff like this are inspired by previous groups, but rather by the sheer awesomeness of the event idea itself. For instance, I run the Knighthood and our style and eventage is just us fucking around, and that's it.

Also, why do blog posters seem to love posting their OMG clever conclusions regarding the link between current events and modern authors? It's maddening! I sense a second Godwin's Law approaching.

Posted by: HJ on June 18, 2003 02:54 PM

This is something like Fight Club...
Very cool idea! I'd love to participate. Maybe one can get on the mailing list by emailing themobproject@yahoo.com ...

Posted by: Jules on June 18, 2003 07:09 PM

This is beautiful. I love that there are so many people willing to take the time out of their day to make the world a little more quirky.

Posted by: rebecca on June 19, 2003 09:23 AM

Will there be nudity?

Posted by: G.T. Tyson on June 19, 2003 02:47 PM

What a great opportunity for some mighty fine shoplifting! The crowd will overwhelm the security cameras and personnel. I'll be able to stash away mucho expensive stuff and slip out in just a few minutes with the big crowd before anyone knows how they were hit. Next time, let's meet at Bank of America on 47th Street. I gots some ideas.

Posted by: shoplifter_extraordinaire on June 19, 2003 05:46 PM

heh...too bad my town is so small, something like this would never work. you'd need half the population to make it look like a mob :P

Posted by: Samkit on June 19, 2003 05:55 PM

It's all fun and games until someone gets their eye poked out.

Posted by: Dougger on June 19, 2003 06:01 PM

Such innocence. Much less reckless before 9/11.

Posted by: Christopher Rake on June 19, 2003 07:30 PM

it is only a matter of time before someone will use this as a an occasion for malicious mischief. bomb perhaps? target perhaps? there are ends where means are appropriated.

How? The meeting place won't be known to anyone not on the inside until the people going there know, and it's quite possible that the actual location is chosen by one person and emailed to the coordinators an hour before the event. There's no time.

Posted by: rosignol on June 19, 2003 07:35 PM

This is a good thing. It disrupts the psyche of controlling people. John Ashcroft, for example. People exercising their rights with no subsequent goal is unnerving to those who cannot understand. Bless all of you.

Posted by: TarotDream on June 19, 2003 09:21 PM

It's all fun and games til the Ohio National Guard shows up.

Posted by: packsoldier on June 20, 2003 12:20 AM

Oh, everybody always wants to take an act of pure brilliance and taint it with politics. To pervert flash mobbing into a political protest would be like throwing feces on the Mona Lisa. Boo.

Shoplifting, on the other hand...

Posted by: PKXH on June 20, 2003 03:30 AM

Sounds like a Temporary Autonomous Zone to me. I like the idea, but it should not be limited to one city. Figure out a way to rotate contact points for, say 10 major US cities (this would be useful for political MOB's or like-minded throngs) and then you could have a nation-wide MOB, not just local to NYC.

Cool ideas!

Posted by: Jeremiah on June 20, 2003 05:02 AM

This is an even smarted idea if this guy owns one of the bars or the store mentioned. Ahh sweet capitalism.

Posted by: Mark Buehner on June 20, 2003 06:20 AM
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