Dull mobs

While I was thinking about flash mobs, I did the thing that everyone always does when ever they think about anything: I read the Wikipedia page.

There was a section on precursors to the flash mob, which includes a 1973 short story by Larry Niven called Flash Crowd:

One consequence not foreseen by the builders of the system was that with the almost immediate reporting of newsworthy events, tens of thousands of people worldwide — along with criminals — would teleport to the scene of anything interesting, thus creating disorder and confusion.

While we don’t have the technology yet to teleport, there does seem to be a parallel between this and the way in which social media allows a sudden influx of attention onto a single indvidual, as illustrated in Jon Ronson’s book on public shaming.

But I also started to think about low-tech equivalents of the flash mob. Could you have a slow flash mob? A dull mob? And then I remembered that someone had already done just a thing. 

Dieter Meier is probably best known as one half of Ferris-Beuller-soundtracking, electro pop pioneers Yello:

However, Meier is a man of many interests – the millionaire son of an industrialist, Meier is also a semi-professional poker player, a former member of the Swiss national golf team, a restaurateur, film-maker, textile designer, ranch owner and conceptual artist.

In 1971, he attended a party at the New York Cultural Center where he stood holding a handgun in front of a sign saying “THIS MAN WILL NOT SHOOT”:


A couple of days later, he stood on a street corner and offered to buy the words “YES” and “NO” from strangers for a dollar each:


The following year, as part of the contemporary art exhibition Documenta 5 in Kassel, Germany, Meier created a low-tech, extremely slow flash mob. He installed a metal plaque at the train station that read:

On 23 March 1994, from 3 to 4 pm, Dieter Meier will stand on this plaque.

And, true to his word, twenty two years later, he stood on that plaque: