The Hipster: Lovechild or Illegitimate Son of Richard Florida?

Life of BrianAs an out-and-proud MAMIL (middle-aged man in lycra) I have a beautiful road bike. It’s black, red and sleek. It’s only fault is that it exposes my physical deficiencies: I can no longer blame the bike as I huff and puff up steep country hills. The other problem is that friends and family now buy me cycling books as gifts. The latest, So you think you’re a cyclist?, is a comedic take on the different types of cyclists.

One such type is the Hipster. The Hipster rides a fixie – a bike with no gears and no brakes to speak of. They rebel not just against restrictive bike parts but also corporate branding, so their bikes are striped bear of logos and details. They call it pure riding. These city-dwelling twentysomethings sport beards, tattoos and skinny jeans. They like to eat artisanal bread and hang out in cafés. The Hipsters’ drink of choice defines our current era – the ‘flat white economy’ – according to Douglas McWilliams. They work in creative jobs powered by the internet – in online retailing and marketing. When they’re not downloading apps, they’re developing them.

They’re at the forefront of urban regeneration in East London. At the height of Cool Britannia in the noughties this district was the hang out of the Young British Artists. Now its pixels not paint that dominates the district according to Ed Cumming. Over 2012-14, 32,000 start-up businesses were created in one East London zip code alone. According to McWilliams almost 200,000 people now work in London’s flat white economy and he claims that it will be the UK’s biggest industry by 2025. It’s a model for urban economies elsewhere, Boston and Portland for example in the US.

On one reading, these Hipsters are the lovechild of Richard Florida. In his Cities and the creative class, Florida guesstimates that one-third of US workers (and globally) form the creative class, paid for their creative input into products. They help foster economic growth in large urban areas because of the 3Ts – technology, talent and tolerance. Whilst their talent and tolerance is important, the most important is the first, where they work: in IT. Florida’s typical creatives work in high-tech industry and his exemplar locale is the Bay Area and Silicon Valley in the US, in which there is a high level of innovation and where ‘hippie entrepreneurs like [sic] Jobs and Wozniak were not merely accepted, but actually financed by venture capitalists’.

Unfortunately, besides being very hip, Hipsters are very male. If who they are and what they do represents the future, it’s a future that excludes women. Turn the page on this seemingly good news story about IT and we find that Silicon Valley is a boy’s club, says Zoë Corbyn. Of ten top US IT companies – Amazon, Apple, Cisco, Dell, eBay, Facebook, Google, Intel, Microsoft and Yahoo, only the last has a female CEO: Marissa Mayer. Only 11% of corporate executives in Silicon Valley are women.

Looking for a cultural fit and drawing on their personal networks, male hipsters seem to like working with and hiring other male hipsters. It starts in college, says Heidi Roizen, an investor and sometime teacher of entrepreneurship to engineers at Stanford. A few male students meet at college, leave and start a company. To save costs they live and work together. This male homosociability becomes exclusory and boysy. As they expand they hire from their former classmates. ‘All of a sudden,’ says Roizen, you have hired ten people and their all males. That is a very hostile environment for women.’

Indicatively, there is no female equivalent of the beard now sported by every Hipster. Perhaps rather being the lovechild of Florida, the Hipster ought to be thought of as his illegitimate son. Excluded from start-ups, young women are left with more to do that huff and puff if they want to succeed in the IT industry and climb the corporate hill. Short of wearing false beards Life of Brian style, their future will be more flat than a flat white unless change comes and comes quickly to the IT industry.

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