Flash mobs and what they mean

Feb 10, 2012, 08:55 IST | Vanita Kohli-Khandekar

If you are seeking that warm, cuddly feeling that makes you feel 'life is good', go to YouTube.

If you are seeking that warm, cuddly feeling that makes you feel 'life is good', go to YouTube. Look up flash mobs and click on the DoReMi video. In 2009 more than 200 people danced to this hit from The Sound of Music, at Antwerp's central station in Belgium. The four minute clip is a heart-warming watch.

It has a mix of children, the young and the old all dancing, after just two rehearsals to a song many of us have heard scores of times. The DoReMi video has been viewed more than 25 million times on YouTube. There are several other popular ones. There is the Hallelujah one from a mall full of Christmas shoppers in the US in 2010.

It was viewed 37 million times. Closer home there is the Rang De Basanti number performed by 200 people at Mumbai's CST station in November last year. It has been viewed 2.2 million times. A bunch of Indians and Kiwis dancing to Why This Kolaveri Di in Auckland in December 2011 had a total of over 2.3 million views.

Why do we like to watch a bunch of strangers getting together to perform in a place where we least expect them to? What prompts that bunch of strangers to get together in the first place. More importantly, why do we watch it online, so many times?

Come together: Flash mobs are about our need to socialise in spite
of the media overload

A flash mob is defined by Wikipedia as, "a group of people who assemble suddenly in a public place to perform an unusual and seemingly pointless act for a brief time, and then disperse. The act is performed for the purposes of entertainment, satire, and artistic expression. Flash mobs are organized using the phone or social media." The first flash mob, the website informs us, was created in Manhattan in 2003. Bill Wasik a senior editor at Harper's Magazine got 130 people together at Macy's, a department store. Wasik has been reported as saying that he created flash mobs as a social experiment.

Going by the 119,000 results it throws up on YouTube, flash mobs are no longer an experiment. They reflect two human needs. One, is our need for shared media experiences. We like to see films together, discuss a popular piece of music or last night's episode of Uttaran. Can you ever imagine watching a cricket match without discussing it, ball by ball, with someone?

As TV, print, the Internet, radio and scores of other media options multiply we end up spending less time with people offline. We spend more time doing our own thing on the mobile, online or on an iPad. But the instinct to share what we hear, see or experience, to display it and to huddle around it, is basic. We all have it. We love a good chat, a nice piece of gossip or the shared joy of a song or film. All media exploits this need. So Facebook is about all of us sitting at our PCs or iPads or mobiles and talking to a few hundred friends. Twitter is about sharing gyan with a random bunch of followers.

Two, flash mobs also reflect the physical need human beings have to huddle around a shared experience. In the old days we huddled around meals, at temples, on festivals or at community gatherings. Some of us danced, others sang (like at Holi or Lohri) and others watched. Now as we become busier and more connected the chances of doing such things, frequently enough, keep reducing. We keep trying to create online situations that mimic big gatherings, but really it is not the same thing.

Flash mobs then is one of the answers this generation has come up with. It is their way of dealing with the need for physical connection in a world full of digital babble.

The writer is a media specialist and author. Follow her on twitter at http://twitter.com/vanitakohlik

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