The Hipster Effect » statistics Identity, society and work in the age of perpetual connectivity Tue, 26 Mar 2013 00:35:43 +0000 en-US hourly 1 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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Infographic: Life, meet work. Work, meet life. /2012/03/14/infographic-life-meet-work-work-meet-life/ /2012/03/14/infographic-life-meet-work-work-meet-life/#comments Wed, 14 Mar 2012 19:30:24 +0000 Sophy Bot /?p=611 more]]> Once upon a time, there used to be this handy-dandy wall separating our work lives from our private lives. These days, the separation isn’t so clear. The line between life and work has been steadily eroding for years, with our personal lives now following us into the office and our work lives barging into our private homes. Below is an exclusive infographic taken from my new book that gives some insight into just how much that wall has changed.



Check out The Hipster Effect book to find out more about what this all means and how we can best deal with the continuing erosion of the wall between life and work.

Infographic design by Made of People!


Data sources:

a. “Doing Business in Bed, When Sick & on Vacation.” Clean Cut Media. 23 Sept. 2010. Web. <>.

b, c. Fox, Zoe. “Shocker: Most Americans Check Work Email During Holidays.” Mashable Business. Mashable, Inc., 28 Nov. 2011. Web. <>.

d. Moore, Brian J. “Social Networking in the Workplace.” National Law Review. Dinsmore & Shohl LLP, 19 Oct. 2011. Web. <>.

e. “Gen Y Facebook Users Seen Mixing Business With Pleasure.” Marketing Charts. Watershed Publishing, 9 Jan. 2012. Web. <>.

f. Eler, Alicia. “91% Of Hiring Mangers [sic] Use Social Networking To Screen.”ReadWriteWeb. ReadWriteWeb, 5 Oct. 2011. Web. <>.

g. Rosen, Jeffrey. “The Web Means the End of Forgetting.” The New York Times. The New York Times Company, 21 July 2010. Web. <>.


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Phone addiction: comic edition /2012/01/16/phone-addiction-comic-edition/ /2012/01/16/phone-addiction-comic-edition/#comments Mon, 16 Jan 2012 20:44:49 +0000 Sophy Bot /?p=516 more]]> It’s not exactly a secret: pretty much all of us are addicted to our smartphones and other internet-connected devices. Gizmodo recently posted a real-world game where everybody at your lunch meeting / romantic dinner / non-LAN-party social gathering stacks their phones face down on the table; the first person to check their phone pays the entire bill. Saturday Night Live poked fun at our screen addiction this weekend with a parody commercial for an app that sends realtime notifications about “what’s in front of your face” and the Simpsons got in on the action with their own mock social networking app, SpringFace. And so, here’s another set of comics (and one comic infographic) depicting the modern internet-connected life: the phone addiction edition.














…and for your bonus unrelated comic: the distraction that is the internet.


Image credits: Mashable comics, The Joy of Tech, The System, OnlineSchools, Asher Sarlin

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The rising freelance ethos /2011/11/04/the-rising-freelance-ethos/ /2011/11/04/the-rising-freelance-ethos/#comments Fri, 04 Nov 2011 02:56:10 +0000 Sophy Bot /?p=417 more]]> Clearance aisles don’t lie: standalone GPS units are on their way out. The same goes for MP3 players, consumer-level cameras, TVs and now even cars. Single function is passé. Multifunction is in.

As hardware technology matures, more and more functionality is being built into standard devices. Whether it’s in your pocket, your lap or your car, today’s devices are expected to perform a wide array of tasks previously reserved for single-function units. Long gone are the days when your phone was not also your calculator, your music player and your video camera. In today’s fast-paced world, we don’t want to switch devices every time we need to perform a new task. We just want to open a new program.

Offline, this trend has manifested itself as a growing interconnection between the different spheres of our lives. Facebook may be play and Outlook may be work, but when both can be accessed wherever you go using a single device, the two become harder to differentiate. And as a whole generation raised with a multifunction ethos is now attesting, the line between work and play is about to get a whole lot blurrier.

A recent report from Cisco shows just how dramatically workplace priorities are shifting to include the personal realm. 4 out of 5 college students want to choose which device they use for their jobs. 71% of students (and 68% of young employees) believe corporate devices should also be used for social media and personal use. In other words, the overwhelming majority of the next generation entering the workforce wants a custom device that can be used for both work and play. Nor do they think that work should be limited to the office – 3 out of 5 students think they have a right to work remotely with a flexible schedule. 7 out of 10 believe being in an office regularly is unnecessary. The message is clear: work is no longer a place you go. Work is a thing you do.

Just as our devices have grown to allow us to seamlessly switch between work and personal functions, so too have we shifted our concept of what each realm means. Work can be brought home, home can be brought to work, and the traditional notion of the workplace has been flipped on its head. While many have called it the rise of the freelance economy, the jobs themselves are not going to transform into project-based work overnight. What will transform is the traditional work ethic. Freelancers are accustomed to managing their own time and billing only those hours they spend working. As more employees start working remotely and spending more time in the office on personal tasks, the freelance ethos will continue its foray into the traditional workplace. Want to spend an hour playing around on Reddit? Go ahead, but don’t bill for it. Want to leave the office early and finish the project over the weekend? Go for it, just don’t miss the deadline.

With the blurring of the line between life and work has come an accompanying rise in the freelance mentality. If we expect to be free to work from home, we must prove that we are responsible enough to do so. Today’s students are already dealing with these issues and have developed the ability to manage their time efficiently. As they enter the workplace, they bring those same time management skills with them. Our devices have forced us to learn how to manage our own time on our own terms and the modern workplace is feeling the resulting shift in mindset. No, we’re not all going to suddenly become freelancers. But we sure are starting to think like them.

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Work at home, home at work /2011/09/30/work-at-home-home-at-work/ /2011/09/30/work-at-home-home-at-work/#comments Fri, 30 Sep 2011 18:36:17 +0000 Sophy Bot /?p=151 more]]> The first time I was ever given a corporate BlackBerry, I took it as a mark of pride. There I was, important enough to warrant being reached during my off-hours, and here was this shiny, function-filled device to supplement my own meager flip phone. Fast forward to today and I, like most, would turn down a work phone if presented with the offer. I’m used to my iPhone and want my work to complement, not overtake, the mobile experience, and I definitely don’t want to carry around two devices. A panel at GigaOm’s Mobilize conference this week pointed out that both companies and employees are benefiting from this recent change of heart – employees get to use their own devices and companies don’t have to pay for new ones.

On the other side of the mobile spectrum, recent data from Google Mobile shows that smartphones are being used throughout the day. And just what are they being used for? Well, considering that 350 million Facebook users typically access the site from their mobile devices, 26 photos are added to Instagram every second, and 103 million tweets are sent through these devices every day, chances are, our smartphone activity at work doesn’t always have to do with work. Curiously enough, while our smartphones help us keep up with our personal lives at work, they flip to the opposite function when we get home. A survey by Harris Interactive showed that 72% of people admit to checking work email during non-business hours, yet another sign that the line between life and work is becoming increasingly blurred.

These recent trends have at their heart a key fact of the internet experience: we want to be connected and stay in touch at all times in all places. While at work, our physical presence keeps us in touch with our colleagues, and we use our virtual presence on the internet to keep in touch with our friends and family. Outside of the office, our personal lives are at the physical forefront and we rely on the virtual to keep in touch with new developments at work. With both the workplace and our social connections becoming increasingly globalized, the stream of information never stops. It would be absurd to walk outside to check your mailbox at 3am, but check your email at that hour and you may find something from that business partner in Tokyo or from that friend that’s vacationing in Sydney. The clock never stops. The communication never stops. All that changes is where we’re physically located and who we can speak with face-to-face. Everybody else – be they our work colleagues at night or our friends during work hours – we now carry in our pockets.


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Zombie hipsters /2011/09/30/zombie-hipsters/ /2011/09/30/zombie-hipsters/#comments Fri, 30 Sep 2011 15:32:53 +0000 Sophy Bot /?p=135 more]]>
They were supposed to be dead. In 2004, a satirical article in New York magazine declared that the hipsters were leaving and New York City was in danger of being “over.” Some five years later, n+1 magazine held a panel asking “What was the Hipster?,” with obvious implications imparted therein. One year after that, an article of the same name hit New York magazine, declaring that the evolution of the hipster stopped in 2009 and we’d “reached the end of an epoch in the life of the type.” Hmm.


The hipster is dead - long live the hipster

Apparently, right around the time when some people started declaring hipsterdom over, the rest of the world was just catching on to its very existence. A query on Google Trends clearly shows that search volume has increased nearly four-fold since 2004, with an accompanying uptick in related news stories. So what about the other big subcultures? Have their search volumes been going up too?







I guess not. The goths and the punks have been experiencing decreased interest levels, while the hippies have remained a steady hum in the background of the zeitgeist. It’s only the hipster that’s been getting more popular. So what does this all mean?

Despite all the doom-saying, hipsterdom is not on its way out. If anything, it’s on its way up. We’ve reached a tipping point in the evolution of the hipster where the principles underlying the hipster aesthetic – freedom of self-expression and an emphasis on creativity – have gone from being markers of cultural outsiders and have planted themselves firmly in the mainstream (if such a thing can even be said to exist anymore). Hipsters aren’t dead – far from it. Nor are we being particularly accurate when we call anybody wearing thick-rimmed glasses or skinny jeans a hipster. To be a hipster often means expressing yourself freely and without regard for traditional standards of propriety. Even the standards themselves keep changing, as more and more iterations of style become acceptable and nobody bats an eyelash anymore at a conservative with a tattoo or a 2-year-old with a mohawk. Maybe it’s time we stop pigeonholing the hipster and declaring him dead and instead take the trend for what it really is – the natural evolution of self-expression.


Note: I’ve recently released a book entitled, “The Hipster Effect: How the Rising Tide of Individuality is Changing Everything We Know about Life, Work and the Pursuit of Happiness” that covers the concept of the modern hipster in more depth and explains the different elements of cultural evolution that have led to this new archetype. Buy it on Amazon Kindle here.


Photo credit: Digital Sextant


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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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Remembering downtime /2011/09/21/remembering-downtime/ /2011/09/21/remembering-downtime/#comments Wed, 21 Sep 2011 18:09:39 +0000 Sophy Bot /?p=56 more]]> It’s no secret that technology is everywhere. Touchscreen this, automated that, internet-connected those; in the modern world, there’s just no running away from our electronic counterparts. This we do not seem to mind. The part that gives us trouble is the fact that technology is every-when.

According to a recent report from iPass, 35% of mobile workers check their email first thing in the morning, with most others checking in throughout their morning routine. By the time they actually begin the day’s work, a full 83.5% of mobile workers have already logged into their email accounts. Half of all employed email users check their work mail on the weekends, according to another report from Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life project. Yet another report by Nielsen reveals that Americans spend 23% of their time online using social networks, most of that time occurring in the evenings after work. At a time when most of us keep our smartphones within arm’s reach of where we sleep, is there any hope for recouping some of our long-forgotten downtime?


Social Thermostat by Hugo Eccles


This is where Designer Hugo Eccles comes in. Unveiled this week during a group show at this week’s London Design Festival, Eccles has created several devices whose sole purpose is to “jam the communication channels.” Whether cutting off all forms of technology completely, blocking workers from accessing social networks during the day, or turning the bedroom into a no-social-network zone, these Slow Tech devices are aimed at bringing downtime back into our daily lives. Details and photos after the jump.

via Cool Hunting

Statistics via Marketing Charts and Mashable
Social Thermostat photo credit: Cool Hunting
Additional photo credit: GS+


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