flash mobs are something you're bound to bump into these days. if not personally, at least they'll get news coverage.
originally derived from a type of performance art, flash mobs gather a crowd in public spaces where prearranged action takes place and after a certain, usually short, time, the people stop doing whatever it is they were up to and leave the scene as if nothing happened.
in 2006, harper's magazine editor bill wasik took credit for the invention of the flash mob by revealing how he organized the first two in nyc in 2003. the term was coined by, who other but, some random blogger. the schtick itself is familiar from candid camera shows, but wasik's invention was to utilize people's willingness to be part of something hip and novel, i.e. change the focal point of the joke: for him it was trivial how many people walked off boggled, but success amounted to an eager big group of strangers bringing an element of surprise to perhaps just one person.
since wasik's originals, flash mobs have appeared at various locales around the world. sometimes a deeper message is being conveyed; for example last winter's flash mob in the centre of helsinki where people would stop, put a mask on, and stare at the biggest department store in town was a protest to consumer craziness and haste. oftentimes, the mob is a pure prank. undoubtedly, the appearance of something unusual is a perfect method to distract people from their routine and either provides an opportunity to realize how much time is spent in a kind of an unreflective haze or, as is often the case, scares and annoys people tremendously.
eventually, mobs would find their way to marketing where the craze to utilize unconventional methods to get free coverage is more prominent than ever. the most demanding task is to keep the event positive but effective, i.e. minimum irritation, maximum pleasant surprise, and here's one success story from last thursday. liverpool station in london gets flash mobbed by t-mobile.