Hipsters and Technology

There have been innumerable articles about the modern “Hipster” movement. Most of these are focused on Hipster fashion, their taste in food, preferred brands of beer, music, and other (mostly trivial) aspects. (1) (2) (3) While those observations may be valid, there’s little of substance to be found in analyzing such mundane details as preferred shoe styles and brands of the group. Modern Hipsterism has been with us since the late 1990’s, though it gained its highest degree of prominence during the various nationwide “Occupy” movements that began with “Occupy Wall Street,” (4) and here, we begin to see the true essence of the mindset behind the movement, and can begin to understand what they will ultimately become, what they have to offer the melting pot that is our global culture, and how that relates back to technology. It is important to understand then, that the Hipster movement is one recently stung by defeat. In simple terms, they lost to Wall Street. The “Occupy” movements didn’t really accomplish anything. The minimum wage is still exactly where it was, executive salaries and bonuses are still exactly where they were when ‘Occupy’ began, and the public has moved on. In the absence of constant pressure, nothing that the ‘Occupy’ movements set out to achieve will ultimately be achieved. Defeats are, of course, a part of life and living. What’s more telling than the defeat itself is what happens directly after. The weak will tend to skulk off and hide. You may hear dissonance and whining from whatever corner they happen to be in, but you already know that nothing much will come of it. That’s one possibility. The other possibility is that, on seeing that they cannot change the system, they’ll simply depart, and begin making a new system. One created in their own image, and more to their liking, and that is precisely what we are now seeing with the Hipsters. Far from being weak, far from being the objects of popular derision that many portray them as, they actually seem to have a plan, and the ambition, intelligence, and wherewithal to see it through. If you had to distill what Modern Hipsterism was all about in a single word, that word would be “anti-excess,” and this is the reason that the group was drawn to the ‘Occupy’ movement. It’s not that they lack the understanding that differences in outcome are inevitable, and in fact, to be encouraged. It’s not that they want to elevate minimum wage worker pay to be equal of executive pay, or to bring executive pay down to the level of the lowliest minimum wage worker. Rather, it is the acknowledgement that at some point, when executive pay becomes so exorbitant and is many hundreds of times what the annual salary is for the rank and file, it becomes problematic, and they’re right. History has demonstrated time and again that they’re right. Any time too much wealth is concentrated in too few hands, a backlash is inevitable, and it’s never pretty. The exact same reaction can be seen in the Hipsters’ disdain for social media. They’re not anti-technology, but rather, anti-technological excess. Social media seeks to invade every facet of our lives. It leaves absolutely nothing untouched. It becomes the ultimate vanity (witness the meteoric rise of ‘the Selfie’), and completely destroys privacy. Is it really so shocking that there would be some who would rebel against that? The Modern Hipster movement then, can be seen as having an uneasy relationship with technology. They like it, absolutely. They embrace it, and recognize its utility, but only to a point. The natural Hipster instinct is to take what they need from tech, but otherwise keep it at arms length, and this then, reveals to us many fascinating things about how the Hipsters are changing the world around us, and why we’ll feel their influence for decades to come. In many ways, they are driving the latest trends in the tech field. Their ‘keep-it-at-arms-length’ attitude toward technology is driving computers to become smaller and smaller, and leading to wearables such as Google Glass. This, in turn, is accelerating the maturation of such things as ‘Cloud Computing,’ because after all, what could be more ‘arms length’ than the clouds you can see and enjoy but never touch? There are other sea changes in our global culture that find their genesis in the Modern Hipster movement. For example, in recent years, there has been a huge upsurge of interest in urban farming. A modern agronomy movement that embraces technology (especially in the area of hydroponic farming, which relies on computer controls to regulate temperature, water levels, nutrients, and of course, reporting on yields and expenses), but otherwise keeps it at arms length. We see this same basic theme played out time and time again, in whatever area the Hipsters are working in. Likewise, Hipsters are at the forefront of Hackerspaces and Makerspaces (which are alternate names for independently run and operated Fab-Labs based on the original MIT model). Again, we see the same trend and pattern. Hipsters using technology to control and organize the output of machines, some of which have been with us for decades and have little to do with modern technology, to create their own goods. It is an expression of a kind of relentless independence that the world has never seen before. These are people with the background, education, and understanding to create entirely new, independent systems and make them flourish. We are seeing the very earliest stages of that now. Give them twenty years, and these forces could rewrite our entire social DNA. The changes are that pervasive and powerful. For many, this is an unsettling thought. There are those who like the world as it is, and aside from a few cosmetic tweaks at the margins, would be content to leave things more or less as they are. This, however, is not what is happening, and part of the reason for that is that the Hipsters, whether they realize it or not, are a bit like Digital Vagabonds. Remember, their primary watchword is “anti-excess.” So what happens when the world catches on and embraces what they’re doing? What happens when Google Glass becomes mainstream and cool? When the world decides that yes, they want to embrace ‘The Cloud?’ In a word, many of the Hipsters…those at the Vanguard of the movement, will move on. The mainstream acceptance of their latest vision pushes them away from it, and they stake out a new frontier. In terms of what that will look like in the real, physical world, you can expect that if, say, a group of Hipsters bring their high tech Agronomy methodologies to, say, Omaha, Nebraska, and they find popular acceptance in that city, you could then expect to see a kind of Hipster Migration as they move to an area where their thinking hasn’t caught fire yet, and the cycle will repeat. This, even as some of their number move into wholly new fields (for example, restoring local production to US cities via semi-underground ‘HackerSpaces’). Understand that there is no ‘Modern Hipster’ movement in the way we have classically understood the term in the past. The Hipsters have no Jack Kerouac to be “the voice” of their generation. Rather, theirs is more of an ephemeral shifting of consciousness, flitting from one thing to the next. Reorganizing and perfecting one thing until it gets picked up by the larger social consciousness, then drifting off to the next. That’s what the Hipster movement is, and that’s what it is doing to our culture, world wide. By the time they are through with us, technology will be as seamlessly woven into the fabric of our daily lives as the clothing we wear. What will the end result look like? That is impossible to predict, but we are already getting some tantalizing glimpses of the future they’re bringing to light and life, right before our eyes. Computers that vanish into the ‘Cloud’ they’re designed to work with, collaboration that becomes not only easier, but a natural extension of ourselves, a new way of looking at, and interacting with technology (here, a maturity. A turning away from technological excess for its own sake, and a renewed commitment to its mastery), greater personal empowerment, less reliance on old (and often failing, or unresponsive) systems, and most of all, delivering us into a future where social problems that have been with us since the rise of the first cities no longer look deep and intractable, but rather, appear more like puzzles to be played with and ultimately solved. This is where they are leading us. We have only to muster the courage to be led toward the future they have dreamed for us all. Tomorrow belongs to them. Let’s see what they do with it.


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