# The Math Behind the Hipster Effect

Why everyone who wants to look different ends up looking the same, according to math.
Image: Shutterstock

If everyone always wants to look different than everybody else, everybody starts looking the same. At least, if you use a recently published mathematical model describing the phenomenon. And looking around here, it seems pretty accurate. Let me enlighten you with some math.

"The hipster effect is this non-concerted emergent collective phenomenon of looking alike trying to look different," in the words of Jonathan Touboul, mathematical neuroscientist at the College de France in Paris, and author of the paper.

Before we dive deeper into the model we've got to set some ground rules: everyone is sick and tired of the word hipster, and has been for years. It's a meaningless word, like 'like' or saying 'let's grab coffee some time.' You can't blame Touboul though, he told me he only used the term because the definition made a great analogy to better explain his model.

I therefore propose we replace the word 'hipster' with 'lovers of small goats' in this article. Why? Because I feel like it, that's why.

Ok, let's go.

According to the model, the similarities in the fashion worn by lovers of small goats is a consequence of two factors: the first is that lovers of small goats always want to dress differently than other lovers of small goats. The second factor is the reaction time of the lovers of small goats. In other words: it takes a little while before they notice that having a long beard and drinking expensive coffee is a trend, and decide to do the opposite and shave. That last part is important, and the novel part of Touboul's theory.

Because of the delay in reacting to trends and the formulas that Touboul uses, a balance is reached at a certain point in time in which all lovers of small goats do the same thing, until they notice they're all doing the same and switch to the opposite. The diagram below explain this better than I can in words:

I know it looks complicated, but hang on. In the figure under the letter C, there is no delay. As you can see that the picture looks like TV static, the opposing trends–let's say owning a fancy bicycle (white) or not having a bicycle (black)–are not matched, making the pattern completely random. But that's not how people in real life work.