Flash mobs were around in the 70s… sort of

A ‘flash mob’ this week in Sydney attracted the national media’s attention, with coverage on the commercial TV news and in the dailies. After meeting behind St James Station in Hyde Park to synchronise watches, about 500 participated in the "Flash Mob Freeze!" event organised on social networking web site Facebook – although organiser Matt Van Rhoon said up to 2200 people had taken part in the freeze. At least one person couldn’t count.

More than 42,000 people were reportedly invited to take part in the event on
Facebook. About 3750 said they would attend. The prank was apparently inspired by similar events held in Grand Central Station in New York and London’s Trafalgar Square.

Reading the mainstream press, you’d think it was the first flash mob in Australia. Not so. ‘Flash mobbing’ as an internet-enabled concept has been around for years. The web site www.sydmob.com, which is dedicated to ‘organising pointless random acts of spontaneity’, has been up and running since 2003, with its first event taking place on Saturday 23 August that year. It apparently attracted about 110-130 mobbers.

However, those inspired to organise pointless, random acts of spontaneity have been around for decades. My partner Steve recalls that in about 1978, while in class, he whispered instructions to his fellow student – who quickly passed on the message to the student sitting next to him, and so on. Inside a minute he had organised a ‘flash mob’; as the minute hand hit 12 o’clock every single student in the class dropped their pen. Their astounded teacher looked up to see everyone bending down to pick up their pens. 

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