National Day on Writing 2010: My flash mob story

I suppose I will begin at the beginning.

From the time I was a young child, I have wanted to be in a musical.  I want music to break out where I was, and I wanted everyone around me to dance.  Then, with the advent of cell phones and social media, smart people created flash mobs.  I knew from the first glimpse of a flash mob that I would, one day, participate in one myself. It was the perfect intersection of technology, culture, and dancing.

In my course this semester, Technology, Society, and CultureYong Zhao invited us to identify a project that reflected the the topic of the course.  I realized on my first reading of the syllabus that my dream of a flash mob would be a perfect place to inquire around technology, society, and culture.  And so it began.  I set about thinking through what it would take to bring this idea to fruition.  It seemed complicated.

I watched a lot of flash mob videos on YouTube. I bombarded my twitter feed and my facebook feed, set up a public Facebook event page and invited everyone I knew.  I blogged about it here and sent the link around twitter for weeks.  I begged strangers to post the information on their listervs.  When I first conceived of the project, I was also thinking about the National Day on Writing, which was October 20th.  Perfect!  Flash mobs require lots of digital writing in the getting of participants.  Also, I love the concept of viewing the community as a text–if we accept that, then we “write” on the community with our dancing.  Finally, the video of the event also becomes its own new media, its own text to be read, consumed, and interpreted.

The night before the flash mob, I was a nervous wreck.  I had over fifty people claiming they were going to come, yet I had been getting ominous emails from close friends and acquaintances backing out.  What if no one came? What if too many people came and I couldn’t control them? I had visions of high school wild parties when my parents were out of town.  After a restless night, it was finally game time and I was a mess.

I had found a fabulous choreographer, Jillian Tremonti, and she and I convened in Erickson at the appointed time.  10 minutes passed. 20 minutes. One person arrived.  We discussed having a flash trio and made a pact that the show would go on with the three of us if we had to.  Finally, we had five more arrive, for a total of eight participants.  And these were the most enthusiastic participants a flash mob organizer could hope for.

As we filtered into the International Center, I noticed a horde of high school students, obviously on some sort of field trip, flooding into the food lines.  High School students, I can say with some authority as a former HS teacher, are the best.  I knew they’d cheer us on. My confidence buoyed, I talked my way into using the PA system and we were ready to go.  Here are the results:

In the end, we had a great time, people were enthused.  We passed around flyers including a writing invitation (based on our flash mob) and instructions for adding to the National Gallery of Writing, where I had set up a local gallery for the flash mob writings.  One young woman seized the moment and wrote frantically.  She walked up to me, thrusting the sheet into my hand and thanked me.  I think that, at least, made it all worth it.  Writing has always made my life better, and to know that, for a brief moment, I brought attention to that is a good feeling.

I will be adding a more academic view of this event through an examination of the affordances of the flash mob for academic purposes.  More soon.

For more on this event:

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