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The Changing Definition of "Flash Mob"

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When most of us think of a flash mob, it's a big impromptu dance party, a spontaneous pillow fight or hundreds of people freezing in Grand Central Station. But lately, the media has been using the term to describe some much less enjoyable activities.


Consider this headline from USA Today: "'Flash mobs' pose challenge to police tactics." Or this one from the Philadelphia Inquirer last week: "Flash-mob violence raises weighty questions."


It's a big change for a term that was defined in the Oxford Concise Dictionary as an "unusual and pointless act," separate from the "smart mobs" that generally had more of a purpose. Gawker was among the blogs that seized on the use of the term, calling out the media for misusing a phrase that actually means "when several dozen aspiring standup comics use the internet to meet in a certain place to do a funky collaborative dance."

Lately, the term has been used to describe escalating violence in cities, especially Philadelphia.

After a series of violent attacks -- including some numbering in the hundreds -- Philadelphia mayor Michael Nutter had to impose a 9 p.m. weekend curfew for the city's youth. In cities such as Washington, D.C., Cleveland and Chicago, groups organized online have flooded convenience stores and robbed them en masse. The term is even being used in London, where social media and texting played a large role in this summer's riots.

In an interview on Southern California's KPCC, author Howard Rheingold, who has written about smart mobs and other collective action, spoke to the changing nature of the flash mob. He pointed to collective action in Iran or Korea as a positive use of social media, while also acknowledging that it could be misused in some cases. But he stopped short of saying that the social media was at fault for the violence.

I think it's important to keep in mind that this new tool is kind of an accelerant, the way gasoline is an accelerant. if you can harness that ... and put your gasoline in an auto's engine then it can be beneficial. If you're going to splash it on a building and light a match, it's a problem. But it's not the fire itself, it's an accelerant.

Of course, the larger question for law enforcement officials is actually linking the violence to social media flash mobs. There is evidence that some of the so-called flash mobs were arranged over text or on a city bus, rather than being coordinated through the Internet. Regardless, Philadelphia police commissioner Charles Ramsey said in a chat with Philly.com that he's most concerned with stopping the violence. As to the use of "flash mob," he said succinctly, "I prefer the term 'rampaging thugs.'"

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The 14th Factory
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Art
Woman Attempts to Take a Selfie, Damages $200,000 Worth of Art Instead
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The 14th Factory

From the woman who fell off a bridge while posing to the photos on a stolen iPad that led to the thief’s arrest, we’ve all heard stories of selfies gone horribly wrong. Rarely, though, do these failed photo ops result in $200,000 worth of damaged property, and a cringe-worthy viral video to boot.

The clip below—shared by Select All—captures the exact moment a woman knocked over an entire row of sculptures two weeks ago while attempting a selfie at artist Simon Birch’s 14th Factory pop-up exhibition space in Los Angeles.

Called "Hypercaine," the installation is a collaborative effort between Birch and contemporaries including Gabriel Chan, Jacob Blitzer, and Gloria Yu. It features rows of crown-like sculptures perched on pedestals—but as the woman in question crouched down low to fit both her face and the artworks into the camera's frame, she leaned back too far and knocked down the pillar behind her. This set off a domino-like effect—and lo and behold, the entire row of pricey works of art toppled over.

"Three sculptures were permanently damaged and others to varying degrees," Yu told Hyperallergic. "The approximate cost of damage is $200,000."

Over-the-top art installations seem to be tailor-made for Instagram portraits—but seeing as how another selfie-seeker recently fell and broke a glass pumpkin sculpture at Yayoi Kusama’s traveling Infinity Mirrors exhibit, consider leaving your phone in your pocket the next time you check out an exhibition. (But if the temptation is too great, perhaps ask a fellow art-admirer to snap the shot for you.)

[h/t Select All]

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This Just In
Typewriter Sold at Flea Market Turns Out to Be Rare World War II Enigma Machine

An antique typewriter sold at a Romanian flea market for $114 turned out to be a rare piece of wartime history: a German Wehrmacht Enigma I machine worth tens of thousands of dollars, Reuters reports.

To the uninitiated, the rare electromechanical cipher machine—which was first developed in Germany in the 1920s, and was used to encode and decode Nazi military messages during World War II—resembles a writing machine. But when a cryptography professor spotted it, he knew the device’s true worth. He purchased the relic and later put it up for auction at the Bucharest auction house Artmark.

Artmark employee Vlad Georgescu told CNN that the machine was made in Germany in 1941. It was in near-perfect condition thanks to its owner, who cleaned and repaired it, and “took great care of it,” Georgescu said.

The Enigma I’s starting price was $10,300. On Tuesday, July 11, an online bidder purchased it for more than $51,000. "These machines are very rare, especially entirely functional ones," Georgescu said. Historians, however, say that Romania may still be home to more unidentified Engima I machines, as the country was once allied with Nazi Germany before joining forces with the Allies in 1944.

During World War II, Alan Turing and his colleagues at Bletchley Park, Britain's central codebreaking site, built a giant computer called the Bombe to calculate solutions that solved the Enigma’s supposedly unbreakable code. Some military historians believe that their efforts shortened the war by at least two years.

[h/t BBC News]

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