The Hipster Effect » identity http://thehipstereffect.com Identity, society and work in the age of perpetual connectivity Tue, 26 Mar 2013 00:35:43 +0000 en-US hourly 1 The Hipster Effect at TEDx Gramercy /2012/04/30/the-hipster-effect-at-tedxgramercy/ /2012/04/30/the-hipster-effect-at-tedxgramercy/#comments Mon, 30 Apr 2012 16:32:37 +0000 Sophy Bot /?p=668 more]]> In March 2012, I was invited to speak about the hipster effect at the inaugural TEDxGramercy event. Without further ado, here is a video of my TEDx talk: on identity, personal transformation and the hipster effect.

 

 

I highly recommend checking out some of the other talks from TEDxGramercy. Quite enlightening all around.

 

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A new definition of hipster /2012/04/02/a-new-definition-of-hipster/ /2012/04/02/a-new-definition-of-hipster/#comments Mon, 02 Apr 2012 18:43:52 +0000 Sophy Bot /?p=647 more]]> When was the last time you heard the word hipster being used? For most of us, not more than a few days pass in between encounters of the commonly used insult – and, for the most part, it is an insult. Yet despite its exceedingly common and widespread usage, publications continue to release articles declaring the hipster phenomenon over. Last week, Flavorwire published an article asking, “What Comes After the Hipster?,” with various experts chiming in on what hipsters might have been and what is likely to follow. In late 2010, n+1 magazine held a panel asking, “What Was the Hipster?” and later released a book by the same name. But before we get too carried away declaring the hipster dead, there’s something I’d like to point out.

 

Google Trends: Hipster (4.2.12)

 

This chart shows the amount of people searching Google for the word hipster (top), and the amount of news articles that mention the word hipster (bottom). Now I’m no mathematician, but it’s pretty obvious that this is hardly the moment when we should be declaring the hipster dead. Far from leaving our vocabularies, the word hipster is becoming more and more common with every month and every year that passes. So rather than asking what comes after the hipster, I suggest we take a step back and ask what is the hipster.

 

Even the dictionary is confused about hipsters

Ask a few people what they think a hipster is and you’ll quickly realize that we don’t have a single accepted definition of this exceedingly popular cultural phenomenon. While the most popular definition on Urban Dictionary skews towards the positive, that same definition is also the least popular, with 71,000 upvotes and nearly 18,000 downvotes. Classical dictionaries are still using the definition of the 1950s hipster and the Oxford Dictionary states simply that the hipster is “a person who follows the latest trends and fashions.” Yet none of these definitions even mention the things we associate with hipsters most: skinny jeans and PBR, wild outfits and fixed gear bikes, ironic mustaches and American Apparel. Without a single, shared definition of the word hipster, each of us is creating our own definition and – given that the common usage of the word is pejorative – our self-created definitions usually err towards the negative. I was recently sent a blog post likening the current usage of the word “hipster” to the 90s usage of the word “faggot” as a catch-all insult aimed at anybody who looks or dresses differently, which I believe is a fairly accurate assessment of the actual usage of the word. Until we can all agree on a single definition of the word hipster, that negative usage is only likely to increase. So let’s take a look at why we have such trouble defining them in the first place.

 

The hipster “subculture” is not anchored by a single aesthetic

When you think of a punk or a goth or a hippie or a raver, a very specific image is likely to pop into your head. These previously popular subcultures each rallied around a set of shared values and, more importantly to the outsider, a set of shared aesthetics. When I was in high school, goths tended to be shunned, but it was clear that in social environments outside of school, their wild form of dress served as a code to help them find one another in mixed surroundings. That shared code of aesthetics was the outward manifestation of a shared set of values, giving goths an easy way to identify and meet other members of their own subculture. Hipsters don’t share that single set of values or that single set of aesthetics; hipsters are, in fact, focused on individuality.

Whereas previously prevalent subcultures focused on group differentiation, hipsters focus on the individual. The hipster isn’t necessarily about finding other likeminded souls out there. It’s more about expressing yourself and doing your own thing, no matter how wild that may appear to others. As more and more modes of self-expression have made their way into popular culture, fueled largely by the wide-open nature of the internet and the vast amounts of content we now consume on a daily basis, we’ve come to adopt more and more iterations of style at a breakneck pace. And because we’re adopting so many different styles so rapidly, we don’t have time to create a shared set of meanings about trends. Instead, what’s going on now is that we’re creating our own meanings for each particular style or object. Classical meanings have been lost somewhere along the way; though half of the people in a room may be wearing thick-rimmed glasses, odds are good that each of them has a different reason for doing so. We, as a society, assume this to mean lack of authenticity, but in many ways it is at the very heart of authenticity – it is choosing for yourself exactly how you want to outwardly express yourself, imbuing each object with your own personally created meaning rather than using off-the-shelf cultural symbols.

 

The hipster as the scapegoat

One thing is sure about hipsters – you’re not one of them. Right? We use the word hipster on people who express themselves more eccentrically than we ourselves do. It has become a term of comparison. The girl in the used sedan thinks the guy on the Vespa is a hipster, the guy on the Vespa thinks the girl on the fixed-gear bike is a hipster, the girl on the fixed-gear thinks the guy on the unicycle is a hipster, and on it goes. We know that hipsters have something to do with uncommon modes of self-expression, so we assume that what we consider common can’t possibly be considered “hipster” – it’s that guy buying mustache wax over there whose style is uncommon. When we encounter an uncommon style, we project a negative set of personality traits onto the wearer, making it OK to call them a hipster and, in so doing, protecting ourselves from being judged as hipsters. We often use the word hipster as an insult due to our own insecurities. We are afraid of being judged as being hipsters ourselves, so we set the bar higher to shield ourselves from that negative judgment. That’s why, no matter how many times you’ve been called a hipster, you refuse to identify yourself as such. What is common to you cannot possibly be outlandish or outrageous – it’s that guy who’s the real hipster. And on it goes.

 

A broader definition of the word hipster

Until we come up with a set definition for the word hipster, each of us will continue to raise the bar above ourselves to make sure that we don’t get associated with those types. And so, I’d like to humbly suggest a new definition for the word hipster. I think the Oxford Dictionary got it right in trying to set such a broad definition, but I also think it neglects what’s at the heart of the hipster phenomenon – individuality and self-expression.

Hipster: somebody who self-expresses in a way that doesn’t fit into previously accepted social or subcultural categories.

That’s it. The definition of hipster varies from person to person because the notion of what is and isn’t acceptable varies from person to person. By defining hipsters as those who express themselves outside of what we consider to be socially acceptable, we acknowledge that hipster is a relative term, difficult to define in isolation. In coming to an understanding of what the hipster really is, we can better understand our knee-jerk hatred of them and move beyond the insulting nature of the word to appreciate why it is that hipsters seem to be everywhere and nowhere at once. Only when we get beyond the hatred can we address how and why this extremely widespread phenomenon is affecting our culture – and make sure that it does so positively.

 

Check out my new book The Hipster Effect: How the Rising Tide of Individuality is Changing Everything We Know about Life, Work and the Pursuit of Happiness for a more in-depth analysis.

 

Photo credit: Newtown graffiti

Hat tip to @drawmedy for the Life is Posers post

 

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Your Facebook identity: comic edition /2012/03/23/your-facebook-identity-comic-edition/ /2012/03/23/your-facebook-identity-comic-edition/#comments Fri, 23 Mar 2012 19:04:52 +0000 Sophy Bot /?p=622 more]]> So apparently Facebook no longer has a privacy policy. Yep, that’s right – what was once its “Privacy Policy” has now become its “Data Use Policy,” which, to be fair, is a more accurate assessment of the policy’s actual content. After all, what Facebook is talking about here is all the different ways it’s going to use the mounds of personal data we willingly feed into it. The funny thing is, that important but telling name change happened way back in September, but only last week did Facebook officially announce that and other important changes to its policies (remember, there are 845 million of us directly affected by such changes).

And so, in honor of these disconcertingly flippant updates, here’s a batch of comics poking fun at the inherently open nature of our Facebook identities. Nervous laughter ahoy.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Image credits: The Joy of Tech, Mashable, Toothpaste for Dinner, Savage Chickens

 

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Book excerpt: Translate my outfit /2012/02/29/book-excerpt-translate-my-outfit/ /2012/02/29/book-excerpt-translate-my-outfit/#comments Wed, 29 Feb 2012 22:49:45 +0000 Sophy Bot /?p=567 more]]> “The only thing that separates us from the animals is our ability to accessorize.” – Steel Magnolias

Well, that and walk-in closets. After all, is there any better indication of the modern obsession with personal appearance than our need to have an entire room dedicated to housing our threads, kicks and baubles? There’s clothes for work, clothes for working out, clothes for going out, clothes for staying in, clothes for fancy occasions, clothes for going to the beach, clothes, clothes everywhere. Different types of situations require different types of clothing, and at a time when pretty much everybody around you is carrying a camera-enabled smartphone in their pocket, your poorly chosen outfit could very well follow you long after the day is over and the last of the wine has been poured.

More than just a carrier of social norms, what we wear is an outward demonstration of who we are. Before you even utter the words, “Hi, my name is,” your outfit has already sent a message. Clothing, in that sense, is not only a tool for covering ourselves up; it is a tool for communicating who we are. Wearing gold lamé to a funeral communicates just as loudly as showing up with a boombox blasting ABBA. Showing up to your office job dressed in hot pants and a tube top does the same. It’s loud. What we wear shows who we are and how we want to be perceived. No wonder The Container Store has become so popular; when clothing is communication, it’s important to have a closet full of the right things to say.

Provided you’re not living in a nudist colony, there’s a certain set of daily rituals you use to prepare yourself before leaving the house – grooming, dressing, preening, pruning and otherwise priming yourself for public appearance.  Where you’re planning on going dictates the social norms required for your outfit, but the rest is up to you. Do you want to fit in or stand out? Are you going for classic chic or a modern conversation-starter? Underlying these questions is a basic fact of identity: how do I want to be perceived by others? Whether consciously addressed or not, how we dress is a way of telling people who we are and how they should think about us. But what happens when the signals get crossed and the meanings confused?

At a time when each of us is exposed to more cultural and personal options than ever before, misinterpretation of intent has become a common problem. I might think that this giraffe-print polyester vest shows that I’m open-minded and fun-loving, but to you it may appear childish and – dare I say it – hipster. Similarly, you might think those big ol’ diamond earrings you’ve got on show that you’re classy and sophisticated, but to me they might just be plain old pretentious. Though each of us is now exposed to more ways of dressing, more modes of fashion and more types of personal style in a single day than our grandparents were in an entire lifetime, the norms governing those different iterations of self-expression have not yet been agreed upon. You may know how to judge which type of blazer is appropriate for a tenured professor, but assuming that you know how to judge a particular type of mustache that has just reentered the cultural zeitgeist after years of obscurity is far less certain.

Just a century ago, nobody owned more than a few basic outfits for a few basic situations. Their options were limited and the message sent by each outfit was obvious and widely understood. Now that our options have increased exponentially – and on-demand 3D printing technology is on the horizon to increase those options further still – our clothing still talks, but we’re all speaking different languages. This is not the conformist, jumpsuit-wearing future once imagined by Star Trek and Logan’s Run. This is a full-on express-a-thon, only without the benefit of a Douglas Adams-inspired babel fish to translate what each of us is trying to say. We’re confusing each other in the name of expressing ourselves. Thankfully, the confusion can be easily corrected. All we need to do is recognize that our wires are crossed. We’ve progressed too quickly, picking up too many stylistic iterations and losing their meanings along the way. Until we can all agree upon what exactly it means to wear a pair of Wayfarers, we ought to just lay off of the judgment and realize that what I think it means doesn’t necessary match what you think it means, and let’s just agree not to even ask Auntie Mabel from Nantucket for her opinion quite yet. We’re confused enough as it is.

The above is an excerpt from my new book, “The Hipster Effect: How the Rising Tide of Individuality is Changing Everything We Know about Life, Work and the Pursuit of Happiness.”

 

Image credit: Alaskan Dude

 

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Sharpie and the self-expressing life /2011/09/20/sharpie-and-the-self-expressing-life/ /2011/09/20/sharpie-and-the-self-expressing-life/#comments Tue, 20 Sep 2011 15:14:42 +0000 Sophy Bot /?p=30 more]]> A new TV ad by Sharpie asks a simple question: what would life be like without self-expression? Maybe a better question is this: at what point in our cultural evolution did self-expression become such a big part of our lives? Sharpies were originally reserved for architects, advertisers, businesspeople, artists… specialists, in other words, often in creative fields. The new ad implicates that we’ve all got something of the artist in us, and we now have the need to freely express as much.

 

 

So, according to Sharpie, what would the world be like without self-expression?

“There’d be no purpose. No passion. No putting it out there for everyone to see.”

Now pardon me while I go find a bathroom stall so I can express my passion.

 

Thumbnail photo credit steakpinball

 

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