September 23, 2003

Cornell's First Flash Mob Gathers on Ho

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At exactly 1:18 p.m. yesterday, between 50 and 100 Cornell students gathered on Ho Plaza for the University’s first-ever flash mob, entitled “Project Free Love.” The students gathered and hugged each other randomly for approximately two minutes and then disappeared.

Flash mobs represent a new phenomenon revolving around the use of technology and human cooperation. According to, flash mobs are “sudden gatherings of people at a predetermined location at a predetermined time.” People in flash mobs usually perform according to a written script, then disperse quickly. Flash mobs can be held for many purposes but most groups stick to having fun.

A recent Doonesbury comic strip described flash mobs. “It’s like Web-generated performance art. People assemble at a designated public place, do something random, and then disperse.”

According to an August 21 Washington Post article, “‘There is no point [to flash mobs],’ said Tom Grow, a Florida-based Web developer who is attempting to become the official historian of flash mobs by documenting the craze at”

Although the flash mob trend has been spreading around the world and throughout a number of universities, prior to yesterday, Cornell had never experianced one.

Students spread word of the time, place and specific script to follow through instant messages, weblogs and text messages. The flash mob is a phenomenon organized around technology, because it has all sprung up around e-mail, cell phones and AIM. “People get together for absolutely no reason, just to get together to do something cool,” Radhika Lakshmanan ’05 said.

“Thank you, everybody, for helping to contribute to the ‘flash hugging,'” said Matthew Nagowski ’05, the primary organizer of the flash hug and a DAZE staffer. “I hope that everyone enjoyed themselves this afternoon. Please continue to strive to make Cornell as beautiful, dynamic, and interesting as we all know it can be.”

Nagowski also expressed disappointment that more students seemed to know about the flash mob than actually showed up to participate. He had posted explicit instructions for the flash mob on his website, writing “upon arriving alone — by yousrelf — mono style — at Ho Plaza at 1:18 p.m. we will be hugging with three other participants in the flash mob and then leaving. To identify other participants, please hold your arms in an outstretched manner as if you were about to embrace somebody.”

Other sections of the website included details about how to synchronize each participants watch, not talking, using cellular phones or digital cameras, or just standing and watching the mob.

Many sources, including the San Francisco Gate, cite New York City as the birthplace of the flash mob. However, others trace their origin to Europe, the 1999 anti-WTO protests in Seattle or the toppling of the Fillippino President Estrada. Since then, flash mobs have sprung up in cities throughout the U.S. and the world. Scripts for flash mobs located in stores have often focused on participants all asking for a specific item. Others have included singing songs, playing games like “Duck, Duck, Goose,” chanting meaningless words and banging shoes on the ground.

“The New York Mob Project’s founder, known only as Bill, started with an e-mail list of 50 friends and friends of friends. The list grew through word of mouth (or word of e-mail). The international online mob community now numbers in the tens of thousands,” according to an August 11 San Francisco Gate article.

Flash mobs are a distinctly twenty-first century phenomenon, the latest and most flamboyant example of how Internet connectivity is inspiring do-it-yourself communities in the offline world.

“It’s funny because I was going to get lunch at Ivy Room, then when I sat down I saw someone I knew, and he was telling me about it because he had been in it,” said Alex Preus ’06, who witnessed the flash hug on his way into the Straight. “I had no idea what a flash mob was. I just remember looking over and wondering what was going on, why there was a guy in a gorilla suit, and then chuckling to myself thinking that I’d read about it in the Sun tomorrow.”

Archived article by Aliza Wasserman