Monday, July 28, 2008

Our Impending Zombie Doom in Context

From Clay Shirky's book Here Comes Everybody: The Power of Organizing Without Organizations:

Early one June in 2003, more than a hundred people arrived on the ninth floor of Macy's department store, where they proceeded to look at one particualr large and very expensive rug. When the puzzled sales assistant asked if they needed help, members of the group explained that they lived together in a commune, were shopping for a "love rug," and made all their decisions in a group. Then, ten minutes later, the crowd suddenly dispersed, heading in different directions with no obvious coordination.

The event was the first successful flash mob, a group that engages in seemingly spontaneous but actually synchronized behavior. The form was invented by Bill Wasik, an editor at Harper's magazine, as a kind of street performance, as well as an ironic commentary on the conformism of hipster culture. Wasik, working as the anonymous "Bill from New York," would e-mail instructions to a group of people, spelling out when and where they were to converge and describing the activity they were to engage in once there. Later flash crowds involved getting dozens of people to perch on a stone ledge in Central Park making bird noises, a "Zombie walk" in San Francisco, and a silent dance party at London's Victoria Station. These mobs had some of the flavor of flagpole sitting—harmless but attention-getting fun. But as novelist William Gibson noted about technology, the street finds its own uses for things, and after the flagpole-sitting phase, flash mobs entered the political sphere.

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