April 4, 2019
They say that everybody has a doppelgänger—an unrelated individual whom they so closely resemble that he or she could be that person’s twin. But now a Brandeis University mathematician, Jonathan Touboul, has taken that theory one step further, hypothesizing that all hipsters—those disaffected and unconventional young adults who see themselves as outliers—look so much alike that they cannot be differentiated at first glance.
And in fact, a stereotypical hipster already has unwillingly proven him correct.
According to a report by Live Science, this particular “can of worms” was opened about one month ago, when an irate reader threatened to sue the MIT Technology Review after he saw an article called “The hipster effect: Why anti-conformists always end up looking the same.”
The man (a hipster, himself) claimed that the photo above the story— which depicted a bearded man in his twenties or thirties wearing a dark wool beanie and a flannel shirt— had been hijacked from his social media profile, used without his permission, and was tantamount to slander.
It turned out, however, that the reader was mistaken. The man in the photo wasn’t him at all, it turned out, but rather a model dressed as a hipster. The two men just happened to look exactly alike.
Touboul questioned what he called “the hipster paradox.” If hipsters define their behavior as opposing mainstream culture, he wondered, why do so many of them end up looking, dressing and thinking alike?
Touboul wrote an equation to try to find out, Live Science reports. In his study, he decided to model the emergence of a trend — say, growing a beard — as it spread through a society made of two distinct groups: “mainstreams,” whose decisions tend to follow the majority, and “hipsters,” whose decisions tend to oppose the majority.
To better simulate the way that trends spread through an actual culture, individuals in Touboul’s model learned about the trend little by little over time as the information trickled down through various sources — the way a trend might spread first to “influencers,” then to blogs, mass media and word of mouth, reaching various audiences along the way.
When a trend first emerged in the model, Touboul wrote, individuals in the hipster set acted randomly—periodically switching from adopting or rejecting a trend as new individuals learned about it. Inevitably, though, as more and more mainstream conformists adopted the trend, the hipsters became synchronized in their behavior, suddenly deciding to oppose the majority en masse.
In the beard-growing example, the cycle might look like this:
“If a majority of individuals shave their beard, then most hipsters will want to grow a beard,” Touboul wrote. “And if this trend propagates to a majority of the population, it will lead to new, synchronized switch to shaving.”
“Despite (and actually, in response to) their constant efforts, at all times, anti-conformists fail being disaligned with the majority,” Touboul concluded. “They actually create the trends they will soon try to escape.”
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