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,
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
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.