As a science fiction writer, I didn’t anticipate flash mobs–though I should have when the internet first started up. Originally flash mobs were benign. They were, say, people meeting in some chosen public place all dressed in the same costume–harmless, amusing stuff.
But as soon as I heard about the first flash mobs I did imagine the flip side–which has come about in places like Philadelphia. Here’s a quote from a New York Times article:
“…these so-called flash mobs have taken a more aggressive and raucous turn here as hundreds of teenagers have been converging downtown for a ritual that is part bullying, part running of the bulls: sprinting down the block, the teenagers sometimes pause to brawl with one another, assault pedestrians or vandalize property.”
Every technology has a dark side, and every variation, every wrinkle, of that technology, has its own dark side.
The “flash mobs turn violent” scenario is exactly something we’d see in dystopian fiction. It’s about a technology introduced with a presumption of its harmlessness, inevitably showing its dark side. The inspiring demonstrations in Egypt, leading to Mubarak’s downfall, were helped along by the internet. They were, more or less, political flash mobs. And they were a good thing–though its unclear whether Egypt’s new governance will be a better one, governmental change helped along by new media does show the socially transformative power of that media. It offers empowerment to the underclasses. That’s a wonderful thing, and something we should never lose.
But it comes with a price–the recent riots in England are partly spawned through social media, instant messaging, texting. However you feel about them, businesses wrecked by the riots feel that the riots are all “dark side”.
The violent flash mobs in Philadelphia feel eerily like something from a science fiction scenario. They’re a dystopian tale come to life.
The next phase will inevitably come along–violent flash mobs versus rival violent flash mobs, multiplying the violence…
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