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November 12 2010

A perfect dystopian storm: Interview with "Flashmob Gone Wrong" speaker

At Ignite London 2, Tom Scott told the story of a Flash Mob Gone Wrong. We edited it for the Ignite Show talk from last week, and it's struck a nerve and is gathering a lot of momentum over on Reddit, MetaFilter and Twitter. Enjoy the video and then read the short interview with Tom Scott below.

What was your inspiration for the talk? Was there a real world event?

Tom Scott: I first had the idea a couple of years ago, and tried to write it as a short story - which was dire! It needed to be much more visual and fast-paced, and the rigid format of the talks at Ignite -- 20 slides, 15 seconds per slide -- seemed like a much more interesting way to tell the story.

One of the inspirations -- other than the actual flashmobs and Internet stalking taking place around the world -- was Larry Niven's 1973 novella "Flash Crowd." That did involve a network of instant teleportation booths rather than the Internet and cell phones, though!


Why did you feel it was important to tell this story?


TS: The alternative was not telling it! I was trying to entertain more than anything else.


Why did you choose to create a fictional event vs. a real world
event that was almost sensational?


TS: "Mob" is deliberately a worst-case scenario, a perfect storm. Everything that can go wrong does go wrong, in exactly the way needed to further the plot! The real world doesn't generally work that way, and there hasn't been one massive event like this yet.

Why did you choose Ignite as your medium?

TS: Because it was there! It's also handy to have a framework to fit into. I had to pare the story down to only what was necessary, and that made it a much better tale.

What did you use to make the talk? Did you follow the "Ignite format"?

TS: Quite a few people have asked that! The "slides" are actually a pre-rendered video made in After Effects; if I flubbed a line or missed a cue, there was no way to recover! And yes, it follows the Ignite format -- there is one cheat where I have two blank slides in a row, but even then there's technically a topic change when the timer bar resets ...


I've read some criticism that this talk is fear mongering because it is a fictional story. Personally I think that the talk is brilliant (and not just because of the delivery and fluidity of the presentation). The point of the talk is that these events could happen in a perfect storm and that we wouldn't be surprised by it. It's a modern-day parable.

The talk is a work of near-future science fiction and is no less valid because it is done as a performance than if it were written in a book. Tom is not trying to warn us away from technology, but prepare us for its implications.

Don't be the product, buy the product!

Schweinderl