Log in ....Tribune

Monday, November 17, 2003

It comes, it performs, it melts away
Peeyush Agnihotri

Illustration by Gaurav SoodAT a serious level, the Net has changed the way business and communication is conducted. For the young, it is another way to express themselves and indulge in some collective antics.

The latest mania that has gripped young Netizens worldwide, India included, is mail amongst their group on where and when to meet. Each person in turn mails a few others among his or her group. The venue is usually a crowded place. Slowly, Netizens in hundreds start assembling at the predetermined spot. Not virtually but actually. Then the group leader asks everyone to perform synchronised antics, like waving, cheering or shaking a leg in unison. To protect the event from going haywire or being hijacked, participants aren’t told exactly what the mob is supposed to do until just before the event happens.

Act performed, they melt away in crowd taking everyone around by surprise. Such a mob that communicates through the Net to perform what Punjabis would call a shosha is called Flash Mob.

It’s happening

A performance. A Net-driven social movement or just a way to drive the onlookers crazy. Whatever be the underlying motive of flash mob, it is already making heads turn. Literally.

‘Flashy’ facts:

  • The first flash mob was organised in May at Manhattan this year.

  • Europe’s first "flash mob" hit Rome last month when a group thronged a bookshop and peppered staff with queries about non-existent books.

  • A Delhi-based flash mob site, www.delhimobs.com, was launched last month.

  • Flash mobs are sweeping the world through e-mails and the Internet, especially via blogs.

  • Short for Web log, a blog is a Web page that serves as a publicly accessible personal journal for an individual.

  • In Nigeria people used their cellphones to help organise protests against last year’s Miss World pageant.

  • Similarly, protests were organised nearly two years ago against the government in the Philippines using cellphones.

  • Psychologists term it as misuse of technology.

It happened in New York, San Francisco, Nigeria, Amsterdam, Paris, Vienna and Zurich far away and in Mumbai not so far away. In Mumbai last month on October 4 at 5 pm, to be exact, nearly 70 Netizens gathered at the Crossroads shopping complex. Then they started shouting: "Reliance Khareedo Paanch Sau, Infosys Becho Ek Hazaar," in stockbroker-like fashion. The mob then broke into impromptu Garba followed by freezing ala mannequins. After that all 70 of them opened their umbrellas and melted into the crowd.

That left the onlookers zapped.

Down the memory lane

Recalls Bijoy Venogopal, a flash mob participant, who has posted his experience on one of the famous portals: "It all started with an e-mail from a colleague on Friday afternoon, which asked me to look up a new blog for Mumbai flash mobs with a link to their Website. I followed the link and filled a form that swallowed my name, e-mail and mobile phone number when I clicked submit. About 8 pm my cellphone trilled. "Hi! this is Rohit," the caller said, and without much ado asked me to check my e-mail. His message, titled ‘Mumbai Flash Mob #1 tomorrow’ contained agonisingly detailed instructions. First, I had to synchronise my watch and cellphone clock to www.timeticker.com. There were particulars of the exact time — ‘timing is everything,’ the e-mail proclaimed — and the venue, called a ‘Flash Site.’ I also received an SMS from Rohit asking me to get in touch with Anupama, a flash mob volunteer. Anupama instructed me to meet her at a location — a ‘Meeting Pad,’ in mob lingo — near Crossroads at 4.40 pm. Not earlier, not later. She briefed me about the ‘act’ to be performed — a comedy in three parts: the stockbroker routine, the garba dance and 30-second freeze. She reminded me to carry an umbrella."

The Mumbai Police found it ‘amusing’ but passed an order banning such activities in future, citing security reasons.

Netizens and psychology

Given half-a-chance Netizens in Chandigarh are only too eager to perform such kind of collective act. "Yeah! I read the concept of flash mob and even saw the Mumbai telecast on one of the news channels. I found it great. Given a chance, I too would like to indulge in such a gimmick if it happens in Chandigarh at all. It is harmless and why should police act like a wet blanket? Creating waves during cricket match is also a harmless mob synchronization. If that’s not a crime, why flash mob is?" asks Nazrana Nagrath, a collegiate and a WWW aficionado.

Chandan Virk, a 21-year cyber caf`E9 regular, says that he became aware about this concept through a friend’s e-mail. "Technology is enabling a lot of changes. The flop side of the story is that anti-social elements are getting more networked thus facilitating crime. I don’t mean to say that flash mobs are anti-social but when so many youngsters act in unison, you can’t predict which way the mood may swing. And once triggered towards the wrong way, it may be hard to control," he avers.

Psychologists view it nothing more than a bizarre behaviour by a particular class of people who are not focussed. "It’s a misuse of technology. Earlier, the group leader used to gather mob by going to everyone’s house. Today, mob is just e-mail away. This type of tactics are resorted to by those youngsters who do not have clear-cut goal in life. They have never experienced success and participation in such events gives them a high or a kick. In such cases mob acts on impulse and the group leader has a hypnotic effect," says Promila Vasudeva, a Professor in Department of Psychology, Panjab University, Chandigarh.

Flash mob. Perhaps the concept is here to stay till Netizens find something wackier.