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Math Proves It: Hipsters All Look the Same

Math Proves It: Hipsters All Look the Same
Photograph by Alys Tomlinson/Getty Images

Jonathan Touboul is a mathematician at the College de France who models the behavior of neurons in the human brain, but he recently became curious about a topic outside his area of expertise: hipsters, and why they all look alike. If the ethos of the hipster is to reject the mindless conformity of the mainstream, why do so many of them make the same aesthetic choices, from the clunky glasses to the skinny jeans to the work boots and fixed-gear bicycles? Or, as he puts it in his new, as-yet-unpublished paper (PDF), “The hipster effect is this non-concerted emergent collective phenomenon of looking alike trying to look different.”

To answer the question, Touboul, as he does in his neuroscience research, built a mathematical model—a network of hipsters instead of brain cells. The “hipsters” in his model were programmed to always choose the opposite of what the majority were doing—they weren’t nonconformist, they were anticonformist. If the mainstream was drinking Bud Light, they turned to craft beers. Once the mainstream started drinking craft beer, they picked up Pabst Blue Ribbon, with or without an irony chaser.