In the crush of media attention that has chronicled nearly a decade of flash mobs around the world, there are certainly plenty of events that meet the textbook definition of being text message and Internet-enabled confabs of strangers collectively doing something pointless. London's underground stations have been particularly popular flash mob spots over the years. For instance, Liverpool Street Station has been the location of what's known as a "silent disco," in which flash mobbers wearing MP3 players descend on the station and, at an agreed upon time, begin dancing to the tunes only they can hear through their earphones.
Yet as awareness and popularity has grown, plenty of well-planned get-togethers of non-strangers have begun to be termed flash mobs as well. For instance, a flash-mob performance by the Mormon Tabernacle Choir at Colonial Williamsburg in Virginia in the summer of 2011 was likely a big surprise to visitors who were there that day; but members of the famous singing troupe obviously know one another and they're accomplished because they are so well practiced. It's also doubtful that those in the audience who enjoyed the concert or the members of the choir consider their talents pointless or meaningless.
A number of events held around the world have also been called flash mobs, even though organizers pointedly say they are not. One in particular, a pillow fight held annually in cities across the globe, is actually part of what's called the urban playground movement, which is not supposed to happen quickly, but is instead designed to encourage people to linger and get to know one another [source: Athavaley].
Other events labeled as flash mobs are sure to make purists scoff. Companies like Sears and Vitaminwater, for example, have hired Jason Laws to be director, choreographer and producer for marketing events they bill as flash mobs. Among his many tasks on these jobs, Law says, is to come up with a concept with his client and then storyboard how it will work, audition and hire performers, as well as secure permits from local authorities. Besides this commercial bent, flash mob is the term that was also applied to impromptu gatherings of young people in Philadelphia in 2010. Although they were organized via social media and brought together strangers, there was nothing fun about them: Stores were vandalized and innocent bystanders attacked, prompting criticism by the mayor and a crackdown by police [source: Urbina].
Keep reading to learn more about the allure of flash mobs.