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11 November, 2014

The Hipster Effect and other Models

Image by Getty, Fair Use by This Guy's Nephew

A mathematician recently posted an article (available at arXiv as a pre-print, to be published in a refereed journal soon) called "The Hipster Effect: When anticonformists all look the same." I'm too slack to learn the math, which apparently helps explain why so many people who reject the mainstream still end up conforming, just to something else. It has to do with the delay between a mainstream trend existing and the non-conformists realizing it and rejecting it, and looks like this:

As an anthropologist, I have some non-mathematical ideas about how and why hipsters end up sharing so many traits. As a human, I tend reject simplifications of our behavior to mathematical functions. But Touboul is clear that his model is just a model, and not an explanation of culture or even something that can encompass all hipsters, so it's fine for what it is. Also, the fact that some image sprange to your mind when I said "hipster" proves that he does have a point. Facial hair, clunky black glasses,...

This guy read the Hipster Effect article before I did, and was already appearing in blogposts about it days ago.
As if to prove Touboul's point, there has been a delay, and then a bunch of hipsters blogged about it (huh, blogging, it's so old-school, so they must be posting ironically) along with all the other non-conformists. I'm too late to be a hipster, having learned of the article in the Washington Post (online, at least, and not on some dead tree).

And yet, I exhibit signs of being a hipster. I'm in phase with them as far as clunky black glasses, facial hair, brewing ale with hops I grew, and so on. As I write, I am listening to the local, listener-supported, volunteer-powered community radio station called KAOS. I am in phase with a fair number of hipsters.

Partial View of an apparent Hipster, Courtesy of some Model

But is it because I react with similar intent and mathematics to the others? In some ways, no. Hipsters' oscillations are much more rapid than mine, and I was wearing this kind of glasses and growing a beard decades ago (and not in a "I did it before you did" hipster kind of way). I just hate to shave, and always wanted glasses that came from that era when all men wore the same kind of glasses. Like my uncle in the first photo. He was not a hipster, but he was an enigma, a guy who wore "normal" clothes, but to a degree (khaki pants and white oxford shirts for decades on end) that was decidedly atypical. He served in the military for a little while, got a job, and raised a family, a model citizen. But also one who was deeply subversive in some ways, whose thoughts boggled minds and defied models.

Were I in the data set being compared to Touboul's model today, I might well become empirical support for mathematical supposition. But I represent a much longer oscillation if I represent one at all, and the "why" of my seeming hipsterism may be a lot different than that of people who know enough about contemporary mainstream culture react against it.

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