The headline feels like an oxymoron, but a paper recently published by mathematician and neuroscientist, Jonathan Touboul called ‘The Hipster Effect’ tries to answer this question.

Ultimately, when it comes to market trends there are two options, you ‘go with the flow’ by embracing the trend; or you do the opposite…and end up forming another counter-trend. How the world and trend evolves overtime depends on who starts off in the majority and who is in the minority.

Touboul has mapped trends – like normcore, hipster and punk – using mathematical equations to show that non-conformists will only change if their ideals/trends start to be adopted by the majority (something we all know to be true).

The paper also shows how trends can do full loops – like at the moment Normcore (ie. Dressing like a dag) is cool for hipsters; while dressing a little punk is cool for the conformists.

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It’s like the world has done a 180 because the mainstream moved into a place previously inhabited by a minority.

This also explains why trends are not static, because there is a continuous cycle of conformists trying to catch up to the non-conformists and the non–conformists trying to differentiate themselves from the conformists.

Where it gets interesting, (and very nerdy) is when you look at the role of time in all of this. Touboul found that if non-conformits were immediately aware of the decisions of the mainstream, their counter-trends didn’t follow any particular pattern. But, if there is a lag in how long it took the non-conformist to find out what everyone else was doing, then their choices started to synchronise . Ie. They all started rebelling against the conformists in the same way – forming new trends. Something we see in day-to-day life.

So why do all non-conformists look the same? ‘non-conformists fight vigorously to be in the minority, but collectively, they act like a dog trying to chase it’s tail’.


Author Pippa Kulmar

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