The Hipster Effect: When Anticonformists All Look The Same

Johnathan Touboul at the Mathematical Neuroscience Laboratory, College de France wrote an hilarious paper on the collective decision making of “hipsters” and how, in the apparent quest to be different, fringe social subcultures will inevitably become more alike until there ceases to be anything to discern individual members from each other.

In such different domains as statistical physics and spin glasses, neurosciences, social science, economics and finance, large ensemble of interacting individuals taking their decisions either in accordance (mainstream) or against (hipsters) the majority are ubiquitous. Yet, trying hard to be different often ends up in hipsters consistently taking the same decisions, in other words all looking alike. We resolve this apparent paradox studying a canonical model of statistical physics, enriched by incorporating the delays necessary for information to be communicated. We show a generic phase transition in the system: when hipsters are too slow in detecting the trends, they will keep making the same choices and therefore remain correlated as time goes by, while their trend evolves in time as a periodic function.

Leave a Reply