Friday Fave: The Hipster effect – why anti-conformists always end up looking the same

This article is fascinating – and it’s not really all about hipsters! It’s about sub-cultures and anti-conformists and how these patterns of behaviour become synchronised, eventually. But it’s not only restricted to non-conformists – these patterns or effects show up across all sectors of society. (It reminds me of how fireflies synchronise to light up entire areas of forests).

Jonathan Touboul, a mathematician at Brandeis University in Massachusetts studies how information is transmitted through society and how it influences the behaviour of people. He focuses on anti-conformists, or hipsters, who intentionally do the opposite of mainstream society to be, well, not mainstream. But at some point, the anti-conformists synchronise to become conformists. His findings identified a critical point – time delay. Touboul has created some wonderful looking mathematical models to identify how random acts become synchronised.

The outcomes from his models provide insight into the time aspect and predictions when synchronisation will occur, but I’m not sure they identify why the non-conformists react or how they select the action – like growing beards as the behaviour to synchronise.

Touboul suggests that understanding these patterns and being able to identify the point when actions synchronise could have far-reaching implications from financial systems through to health and social sciences.

Now – you could stop reading here – but don’t! There’s a postscript to this article – thanks to Jakkii for sharing this in our internal chat (she wasn’t aware I was reading about hipsters and synchronisation). The article quotes the same research report from Touboul – but – shows how it can play out. It demonstrates just how far the synchronisation can go, in fact, you can’t tell one hipster from another! And apologies to any hipster who takes offence to this claim – read the second article!


This post is part of a weekly Friday Faves series contributed by the team at Ripple Effect Group. Read the entire series and collections from other team members here.