The Hipster Effect » internet Identity, society and work in the age of perpetual connectivity Tue, 26 Mar 2013 00:35:43 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Beware the n00bs /2012/05/23/beware-the-n00bs/ /2012/05/23/beware-the-n00bs/#comments Wed, 23 May 2012 18:27:02 +0000 Sophy Bot /?p=721 more]]> Ah, nostalgia – how we love thee. That song your dad used to sing you to sleep with (The Beatles – Strawberry Fields Forever). That movie you’ve seen so many times you could practically recite it by heart (Beetlejuice). That TV show you used to watch over and over and over again during long lazy summer days (Bewitched). When it comes to the media we love, nostalgia seems to be everywhere. Everywhere, that is, except the internet.


I </3 reposts

That’s not to say nostalgia doesn’t exist on the internet – far from it. After all, we love reading lists of toys that were popular when we were growing up, discontinued food products that make us long for our grade school lunchboxes, classic TV shows cancelled before their time. But once we’ve read them, we better not see them again. The internet is made for new things, for a constantly replenishing trough of new information. Be gone, you with the reposted photo of that weird nude couple holding cats. Get away, you who want to show me that video of the sneezing panda again. This is the internet! I came here to see new things, or to reminisce about tangible old things like Fraggle Rock or Red Dwarf. Get off of my forum with your boring reposts of last week’s jokes.

Long gone are the days of endless Gilligan’s Island reruns. This is the meme-a-minute new millennium. Novelty is practically a birthright.


Re: re: re: fwd: re: FWD: re: re:

When I was a kid, I convinced my parents to let me stay up late one day a week to catch the new episode of Roseanne. These days, my pleading would never work; it would be Tivo’d and I would watch it tomorrow. The ad-hoc, on-demand nature of modern media consumption has at its heart a single factor: choice. Recorded movies mean the end of, “tune in this time next week!” Downloaded songs are the death knell of radio requests. And as far as internet content, we’ve come to expect an unwavering stream of new videos, new jokes, new stories, new amusements – new everything that’s worth a click and a minute. Seeing somebody repost an article you read last month as if it just came out shatters the illusion of personal control. It makes us feel as if we’re back to the days when media outlets gave us one set of options, take it or leave it. What happened to choice and a customized stream of content? The indignation builds and the internet cries back: n00b!

The reason people are so quick to shout down “old” content online has to do with what we expect when we go internet surfing in the first place. We expect novelty. We expect to choose for ourselves what we want to see, the sites we want to surf. We expect the newest and best of everything, because that’s what the internet has always shown us. So when somebody has the gall to post something that you’ve already seen as if it’s brand new, that expectation falters and suddenly it feels like you’re no longer in control. You cry out, “Repost! Old!” and downvote it to oblivion, hoping that will teach OP a lesson in messing with your internet stream.

Perhaps there will come a day when your browser will be smart enough to block content you’ve already seen, wherever it happens to appear. Perhaps you will never have to see that gif of the dramatic chipmunk ever again. Until then, put away the anger and back away from the repost. OP did not know any better. Let’s hope the time comes when we no longer feel the need to demonize anybody who unwittingly reposts content that’s been around for months. Or at the very least, let’s be a bit more lighthearted when it comes to chastising n00bs. After all, nobody is born l33t.


*n00b = Newbie. New internet user.

*OP = Original poster. The user who posts a piece of content.

*l33t = Elite. Highly experienced user.



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Book excerpt: The Age of the Remix /2012/05/07/book-excerpt-the-age-of-the-remix/ /2012/05/07/book-excerpt-the-age-of-the-remix/#comments Mon, 07 May 2012 17:55:00 +0000 Sophy Bot /?p=695 more]]> It’s fun to find something cool on the internet.

It’s even more fun to share it with somebody else.

Such is the ethos behind the wildly popular Reddit community, a social news website where eight million active users[i] submit content and vote it up or down in popularity and site ranking. With over 111,000 topical “subreddits”[ii] and a voting-based comment system that encourages witty and relevant conversation, Reddit has drawn a fiercely devoted user base known for both its individual and group participation. The voting system that underlies Reddit encourages users to contribute their own comments and iterations of popular jokes and memes, rewarding those that make it to the top with thousands of views and a not insignificant amount of praise. The same system downvotes content that is facetious, disingenuous or malicious, keeping hooligans at bay and making it clear that such behavior will not be tolerated. Though individual participation is highly encouraged and rewarded, the Reddit community also has a keen sense of when it’s time to band together as a group. Whether it’s raising $70,000 overnight for a troubled orphanage in Kenya,[iii] organizing a 40,000 participant-strong Secret Santa gift exchange[iv] or just playing around with the Scumbag Steve meme,[v] the high level of user involvement spurred by Reddit has at its core a simple fact of human nature: it feels good to be in control.


Ask me anything (AMA)

“Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex (But Were Afraid to Ask)
—1969 book by Dr. David Reuben

Now here’s a novel concept for your modern, internet-connected Digital Native—once upon a not-so-long-ago time, racy and taboo knowledge was more than just a mouse-click away. There was, in fact, no easy way to find answers to those questions you were “afraid to ask,” nor was there an easy and safe way to discuss such questions with others. The answers to those questions, provided you could find them in the first place, came from tightly controlled official sources, usually in the form of books, newspapers, TV and radio broadcasts. Though the then-prevalent hippie subculture encouraged you to question everything, it was vague when it came to how you could actually go about doing so. Therein lay a twofold communication conundrum of the pre-internet era: (1) how could you find answers to questions that were too taboo to ask? and (2) how could you be sure that the official story about anything was true when all you could access was the official story?

“IAmA guy that hasn’t pooped in the month of August yet. Ask me anything about my extreme constipation.”[vi]
—Reddit, August 2011

“I am national correspondent for the Atlantic (and long-ago speechwriter for long-ago president Jimmy Carter) AMA”[vii]
—Reddit, February 2012

From the curiously gross to the politically relevant and with a little bit of everything in between, the popular “Ask Me Anything (AMA)” subreddit is just one example of the kind of internet-fomented forum that breaks down the pre-internet barriers to communication and knowledge. Those previously unanswerable taboo questions can now be addressed not only through the static pages created on the early internet, but also through the active conversations fostered through the increasingly interactive modern internet. The ability to participate in such conversations anonymously means that being “afraid to ask” is pretty much a thing of the past.

More relevant to our cultural evolution is the modern ability to question the official story of companies, governments, teachers, parents and other authority figures. That old symbolic phrase touted by many a hippie—”Question Authority”—has now become a physical reality in the open world of internet communication and research. We are no longer willing to take big media news stories at face value, preferring instead to hop online and reference multiple sources to get the whole story, warts and all. We discuss them on social networks, share feedback on blogs, and generally do our best to get involved with the stories that interest us (now that it’s actually possible to do so). And at a time when the deaths of Osama Bin Laden and Whitney Houston are hitting Twitter and Facebook before they’re hitting CNN and Reuters, the purveyors of the official story are no longer able to hide like the wizard behind the curtain. The ability to communicate freely online has empowered us as a society in a way that is, as with so many cultural trends spawned by the internet, a first in human history. Not only can we now find out the whole truth and everything but the truth; we can actively participate to change official policies for the better.

Take the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA), for instance. Boy, did the internet hate that one. As news of the freedom-curtailing act made its way from Facebook friend to Facebook friend, many of us bounded together to spread knowledge, sign petitions, contact politicians, and finally to participate in an unprecedented blackout that stretched to some of the most popular sites on the internet (Reddit and Wikipedia included). The day before the blackout, SOPA had only 31 opponents in Congress. The day after, that number more than tripled to 101.[viii] Two days after that, SOPA was declared dead in the water and the battle was already over. While many declared that the internet had won out, in reality the truth stretched deeper than that. It was we the people who had won, and it was the ability to freely communicate online that had tipped the scales of justice in our direction. Perhaps Time Magazine put it best when it declared you its 2006 person of the year: “The new Web… is a tool for bringing together the small contributions of millions of people and making them matter.”[ix] Underlying that fact: freedom of communication.


Read only –> read/write

“No mommy, let me do it.”

Perhaps no phrase is as indicative of the fundamental need for control that seems to be hardwired in the human brain[x] as is this common childhood utterance. Our first experiences with control take the form of actions without a framework—touching things, grabbing them, shaking them, kicking them. As our minds mature and we gain control of our motor functions, our actions become more complex. We put the round peg in the round hole and stack the small ring over the big one. By the time we toddle our way up into childhood, simple movements transform into structured play and games. We quickly learn that while moving things around aimlessly might be interesting, taking the time to learn the rules is what really makes a game fun. To learn we must first observe, temporarily relinquishing our control in the process. Once we’ve understood the rules, we gain a whole new level of control and suddenly Hungry Hungry Hippos becomes more than just a collection of things to shove up your nose. Is it any great surprise then that, after taking some time to observe and learn the framework and rules of the internet, we’re ready to regain the control that comes so naturally to us?

“Today’s audience isn’t listening at all—it’s participating.”
—William Gibson, science fiction writer[xi]

Ours has become a world of mashups, a world of memes, a world of remixes and fan fiction and ubiquitous blogs and Tumblr reposts, all of which allow users to create something new within the framework of something that already exists. While our first online experiences involve observation—learning the rules of the game, watching how others play, thinking about what we would do if it was our turn—the fun doesn’t really start until we join in and start playing for ourselves. We get our feet wet by joining user-friendly social networks, posting simple content like status updates and photos and commenting on other users’ posts. On a site like Reddit, most people start as lurkers, observing but not participating, before finally feeling comfortable enough to join in on the conversation. Once we’ve dabbled in adding our own content online, we get more brazen. We leave more comments on more sites, post videos as well as photos, and start reposting the content we find in our daily observations. The more we participate, the more others participate with us, drawing us further in and making us search for still newer ways to contribute—and there are plenty of companies out there lining up to help us do just that.

As more and more internet and software companies hit the market, we’re provided with more and more ways to interact with content, and that interaction is getting easier with every passing year. Most computers now come pre-loaded with basic music-, photo- and video-editing software, giving everyday users access to tools that cost thousands of dollars just a couple decades ago, and tens of thousands a couple decades before that. Combine the availability of production tools with the ease of posting and sharing content online and it’s no wonder that there are literally billions of posts, videos, photos and status updates added to the internet each and every day. And now that those production tools are making their way into our mobile devices as well as our home computers, those figures are only likely to increase.

The upshot of all this new content we’re adding is an explosion of productivity, innovation and self-expression. Sure, there may be hundreds of silly new meme photos added to sites like Reddit on a daily basis, but there’s also that one guy who decided a new tool was needed to house those photos and created Imgur, a site that now attracts 16 trillion views a month.[xii] And yes, though most of the 60 hours of video added to YouTube each and every minute is bound to be junk, it’s also the site that gave birth to the Justin Bieber phenomenon and arguably gave tween girls one of the more wholesome role models it has seen in some time. Hearing those success stories gives your average internet user all the more reason to chip in her own talents, and even if they never do reach beyond her own circle of friends, the ability to freely express herself and receive positive feedback from those close to her will have made the experience worth it anyhow.

The internet has thus fueled a shift from what media theorist Laurence Lessig called a Read Only culture into what he calls a Read/Write culture. It is a version of culture that encourages more than just the passive consumption indicative of classic media including books, television and music. With the tools of production increasingly at hand, we’re free to throw our own contributions into the pot, ad hoc and at will (like this self-published book, for instance). Whether we’re creating something from scratch or altering pre-existing content, most of us now have the tools to produce and publish readily awaiting at our fingertips, and they’re pretty much free to boot.

Just as a kid might initially enjoy watching his older brother play video games, we know the real fun doesn’t start until we have the controller in our own hands—which, culturally speaking, we already do. And just as that kid might then enjoy playing the same games his older brother did, he’ll quickly realize that he’d much rather choose the games for himself. Playing copycat may be fun at first, but it’s a bit like playing a game without knowing the rules in that it’s really only half of the fun. It’s not until we move beyond copycat and create something worth copying that the real fun begins. And once we do create that something, we’ve got an instant audience ready to test it out on—our Facebook friends.[1]


[1]Or Twitter, or MySpace, or LinkedIn, or Pinterest, or Path…





The above is an excerpted chapter 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.”



[i] Jeremy [jedberg]. “Your Gold Dollars at Work.” Web log post. Blog.reddit. Reddit, 26 July 2010. Web. <>.

[ii] Metareddit. Web. <>.

[iii] Hopfensperger, Jean. “Kenyan Tale Shows Power of Online Giving.” StarTribune. 6 Feb. 2012. Web. <>.

[iv] “Statistics for Secret Santa 2011.” Reddit Gifts. Web. <>.

[v] “Scumbag Steve.” Reddit. Web. <>.

[vi] Nopooshallpass. “IAmA Guy That Hasn’t Pooped in the Month of August Yet. Ask Me Anything about My Extreme Constipation.” Reddit. 19 Aug. 2011. Web. <>.

[vii] Jfallows. “I Am James Fallows, National Correspondent for the Atlantic (and Long-ago Speechwriter for Long-ago President Jimmy Carter) AMA.” Reddit. 8 Feb. 2012. Web. <>.

[viii] “SOPA Supporters Before And After.” WeKnowMemes. WeKnowMemes LLC, 20 Jan. 2012. Web. <>.

[ix] Grossman, Lev. “You — Yes, You — Are TIME’s Person of the Year.” Time Magazine 25 Dec. 2006. Web. <,9171,1570810,00.html>.

[x] Gilbert, Daniel Todd. Stumbling on Happiness. New York: Vintage, 2007. Print.

[xi] Gibson, William. “God’s Little Toys.” WIRED Magazine July 2005. Web. <>.

[xii] “Site Statistics.” Imgur. Imgur, LLC. Web. <>.




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I’m a time-shifter (and so are you) /2012/03/26/im-a-time-shifter-and-so-are-you/ /2012/03/26/im-a-time-shifter-and-so-are-you/#comments Mon, 26 Mar 2012 20:42:18 +0000 Sophy Bot /?p=638 more]]> I used to be one of those people who hated TV. You know the type – I didn’t own one and I wouldn’t allow one in my home. My laptop was my own personal movie theater, and for me that was enough. A few years later I upgraded to a dedicated monitor, and not long after that I caved in and got myself a big old HDTV (and a correspondingly small box for streaming movies and, eventually, TV shows). After swearing it off for years, the realization finally dawned on me that what I’d hated wasn’t the act of watching content – it was the feeling of wasted time I got by endlessly flipping through channels on cable TV. With the nonstop flow of programming available there, it was just too easy to get lost in those channels, usually watching something I didn’t really want to be watching. I wanted to choose for myself how I would spend my time, and not to fall into fruitless time-sinks like channel-surfing.

Unlike pretty much all technologies that preceded it, the internet is, by its very nature, infinite. There is no set start or end – everything is available, all of the time. It is up to us to choose our own beginnings and endings, a freedom we are now coming to expect from older forms of media as they transition into the digital world. We want our movies, music and books to be available when we want them, where we want them, and though legions of viewers still watch American Idol live, scores more are happy to Tivo or download it to watch later, uncut and commercial-free. As the time-unrestricted nature of the internet has become an expectation that many now view as a fundamental human right, we increasingly expect to choose for ourselves not only how we want to live, but when.

As a freelancer who works from home, I often get lost when it comes to time. On many an occasion have I found myself wondering why there are so many people on the roads or in the subways before realizing duh, it’s rush hour, clueless. The ability to work remotely and on my own schedule means Saturdays can be Tuesdays, midnight can be lunchtime and the holiday break can be crunch time. While telecommuters represent an extreme version of a time-untethered existence, anybody who uses the internet is, to some extent, a time-shifter. Older generations gathered around the radio at a set hour to hear weekly broadcasts. The morning newspaper gave you all the news that was fit to print, and not an article or editorial more. Millions tuned in every evening to watch Walter Cronkite and once the national anthem played, that was it for TV viewing that night. These days, it’s up to us what we want to access and when – which is a good thing and a bad thing.

Now that we can choose for ourselves when and how we’re going to interact with just about any form of content out there, it’s also up to us to choose when to start, and when it’s time to stop. Anybody who’s surfed the internet knows how easy it is to get sucked into the LOLcats vortex, emerging hours later with that same sense of wasted time that once made me shun cable TV. With everything now available all the time, it’s up to us to choose when and how to interact with all that content, and with each other. When I first started freelancing, I had to set certain rules for myself to make sure I still got things done. Similarly, I have rules for myself when it comes to interacting with content. I still don’t allow cable TV in my home (though I’m an avid user of Netflix). I only use social networks on my own computer – no Twitter on my mobile or peeking in on Facebook when I’m at a friend’s. My phone gets shut down every evening when I’m done working, and so on. These rules impose a certain framework that helps me be more effective and less distracted, and all of that makes me a happier human being. As Eleanor Roosevelt once said, with great freedom comes great responsibility. You’re darned right that I missed some deadlines in my early freelancing days due to irresponsible use of my new-found freedom; it wasn’t until I started actively managing that freedom that I began to truly reap the rewards. And it wasn’t until I set limits on my technology usage that I was able to fully enjoy it without being overwhelmed.

What about you, my fellow time-shifters? How do you keep yourself from getting sucked into the always on, always connected, always new world of internet content and interactions?


Image credit: Sean MacEntee


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Then and now: comic edition /2012/01/11/then-and-now-comic-edition/ /2012/01/11/then-and-now-comic-edition/#comments Wed, 11 Jan 2012 21:08:15 +0000 Sophy Bot /?p=500 more]]> This week marked a first in my 17 years of internet use: my mom forwarded me a legitimately funny email (and one that originated on Reddit, to boot). The email in question contained a bunch of then and now comics and, coming from somebody whose leisure internet usage consists of family photos on Facebook and prolonged solitaire battles (I love you mom), it was surprisingly zeitgeist. And so, for a bit of lighter fare here on The Hipster Effect, check out this selection of Then and Now comics depicting just how different an internet-enabled society really is.



The Reddit-spawned original (curiously enough, my mom's version was missing the bottom row)



I feel this kid's Transformers-induced pain



The golden rule does not apply to piracy



Modern birthdays: Tweets over Twister



Rarity = excitement



Globalization ain't no thang



The changing form of distraction


…and finally, an unrelated bonus comic:



Got any more? Post them in the comments.

Image credits: Reddit, Smilorama, Endless Origami, Failbook, Techno Tuesday, Rage comics, XKCD


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The impossibility of a screen-free life /2012/01/04/the-impossibility-of-a-screen-free-life/ /2012/01/04/the-impossibility-of-a-screen-free-life/#comments Wed, 04 Jan 2012 23:46:34 +0000 Sophy Bot /?p=488 more]]> When was the last time you went screen-free for a day? I’m not even talking about a whole week or a month here – just a single day. When was the last time you went screen-free for a whopping 24 hours? Spending any amount of time without a screen is getting harder and harder with each year that goes by. So how exactly did we get to this point?

In the beginning, things were slow and expensive. Modern kids will never know of the prolonged pings of a 14.4 modem, of waiting minutes (minutes!) for a single page to load on a painfully slow computer that probably cost over 3,000 dollars. (See if you have the patience to wait for Google to load on a 14.4 modem simulation – I didn’t.) Technology was expensive and even if you did have a computer in your home, the internet was just too slow to spend much time on. Every single page took endless minutes to load, until finally impatience got the best of you and you logged off in frustration. As technology got cheaper and the internet got faster – first on our home computers, then on our handheld devices – waiting for content ceased to be a factor. When everything is instantaneously accessible, there’s no time lapse to allow you to think of other things you could be doing – there’s just content, content, and more content.

In the beginning, there wasn’t much content. Computers were too expensive for most to afford and, even if you had one, you probably didn’t know the first thing about putting content online. It wasn’t until things got cheaper and faster that businesses and institutions went online en masse and the amount of available content started to explode. With more content came more reasons to stay online. We all know the feeling of opening a single Wikipedia entry, only to find ourselves hours later in the nether regions of the web, still clicking away, our original question long answered and forgotten.

In the beginning, you only consumed content – you did not create it. This is where things really branched out from the classic screen of the TV. With the interactive web, not only could you read something – you could leave a comment or write your own rebuttal. Not only could you watch something – you could shoot and upload something yourself. Not only could you consume – you could participate. And so could everybody else.

In the beginning, your social life was relegated to the real world. Sure, there were those among us who spent hours on early communities like Prodigy and AOL, but you weren’t likely to find many of your real-world friends on there. It wasn’t until the rise of the social networking-fueled web that the ability to create content joined the ability to connect with your friends and we all started creating content about our day-to-day lives. We could suddenly store and share our experiences, both past and present, giving us even more of a compelling reason to check into Facebook just one more time.

In the beginning, being online meant being at a desk. Once the laptop became popularized and the wireless internet grew along with it, the chain to our desk was broken and we were finally able to interact with the online world from the comfort of the couch or the dining room table. The rise of the smartphone enhanced that portability even further, allowing all bar bets to be settled immediately and providing an eternally connected lifeline to the online world of content and friendships. The current rise of the tablet is taking things a step even further, allowing us the computing power and larger screen of a traditional computer with the portability of a smartphone. Now, you can be online anywhere, at any time, with anybody.

In the beginning, the online world was more asynchronous – in other words, not everybody was online at the same time. Since being online meant being at a desk, it also meant that you weren’t logged in all of the time, and neither was anybody else. There wasn’t much need to check in more than once or twice a day – there probably wasn’t anything new to see there anyways. Now that we all carry the internet around wherever we go and add content on the fly, there’s constantly something new to check out. We’re logged in more and more of the time, making the online world more and more synchronized with the real world. Being offline means missing out on what’s going on with everybody else. Simply put, being offline means being out of the loop.

In the beginning, bananas did not have QR codes. Yep, last week I reached for a snack only to realize that there was a QR code advertising the new Alvin & The Chipmunks movie staring up at me from this otherwise completely organic product. Advertisers and other businesses have taken it for granted that we’re constantly in arm’s reach of a device. Even the most offline elements of our otherwise online world are now beckoning us back online, back into the connected world, back into the realm of interactivity. Once we get there, the speed and the content are all we need to sending us zipping away down the information superhighway.

And we wonder why it’s so hard to be screen-free.

The difficulty we now face is not how to log off entirely, which admittedly makes us miss out on a lot of what’s going on in the world, but how to integrate the omnipresent internet into our lives without losing touch with the world around us. Initiatives asking us to be screen-free for a week are missing the point. It’s highly unlikely that we’ll ever be screen-free again, at least not for any extended period of time. Rather than trying to ditch our screens altogether, we need to learn how to integrate the internet into our lives without letting it take over. Screw screen-free. We need to get screen-smart.


Photo credit: jasontoff


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The internet we breathe /2011/09/21/the-internet-we-breathe/ /2011/09/21/the-internet-we-breathe/#comments Wed, 21 Sep 2011 20:36:44 +0000 Sophy Bot /?p=64 more]]> Early man might have had that whole fire thing going for him, but that’s nothing compared to our newest resource of choice: the internet. A new study released by Cisco found that 1 in 3 college students and employees ranks the internet as a fundamental resource for the human race – right up there with air, water, food and shelter. More than half of those surveyed said they could not live without the internet, and 2 in 3 respondents said, if forced to make a choice, they would choose the internet over having a car. The message is clear: life without the internet is no longer a viable option.

Another interesting finding of the study illustrates how the shaky divide between life and work is tumbling down. Fully 7 in 10 employees said they “friended” their managers and/or coworkers on Facebook. With nearly 9 in 10 employees globally maintaining an active Facebook account, statistics are proving what common sense has been pointing to for years: there’s no denying that our social lives and our business lives are increasingly tied together. To top it all off, smartphone penetration continues to increase, with more than half of employees surveyed calling their mobile device “the most important technology in their lives.” So not only do we friend our bosses, we take them with us everywhere we go, and 33% of us consider the ability to do so as important as breathing and eating. More statistics after the jump.

via GigaOM

Photo credit: Alex E. Proimos


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