May 05, 2014

Artists, Bankers, Hipsters and the "Bro-ughnut" of New York: Mapping Cultural-Economic Identities on Twitter

It's long been established that cities are the centers of social media activity. And while there remains a great deal of internal differentiation in these cities, especially between those with access to the necessary technologies and those without, one way this kind of social media data can be put to use is in identifying variations in different cultural-economic identities that go beyond those classified by official statistics (e.g., race, income, occupation), and how these different groups make use of different spaces within the city [1].

These maps are based on all geotagged tweets sent in the New York City metropolitan area (as defined by the extent of the maps) between June 2012 and March 2014, collected from the DOLLY Project at the University of Kentucky. Using a series of keywords, we are able to visualize the spatial distribution of some of these cultural-economic indicators and identities as manifest in this data. But rather than just plotting points representing the locations of these tweets, which can tend to resemble complete noise or rather obvious patterns such as population density, we've cleaned and normalized the data in such a way as to minimize the potential effects of a small number of active Twitter users skewing the dataset, the Modifiable Areal Unit Problem and the potential mimicking of population density.

The first of these maps compares references to the often derisive terms 'hipster' and 'bro'. Although mortal enemies in the wild [2], we wanted to see whether domestication (via urbanization and Twitter) might cause these archetypes to adapt different grazing patterns.

There are a total of 12,319 tweets mentioning the subcultural signifier for those with tight pants, pseudo-progressive politics and pretentious taste in just about everything, which are overwhelmed in absolute numbers by the 239,412 tweets referencing the male, college-aged partying demographic. But through normalization techniques like the location quotient, we are able to more accurately compare the relative number of references to these terms.

The "Bro-ughnut" of New York: Tweets Referencing 'Hipster' and 'Bro'

The highest concentration of references to 'hipster' (shown in the darkest hexagons, which represent location quotients greater than one) are located in the gentrifying areas of Brooklyn such as Dumbo, Prospect Park and Williamsburg, as well as the SoHo/NoHo neighborhoods and the area around Columbia University in Manhattan, which reinforces the all-too-often-commented-upon relationship between hipsters and gentrification. These areas are surrounded by a much more extensive belt of tweets referencing 'bro', suggesting a clear spatial divide between these two groups within the city. The circular pattern of this difference gives rise to what we like to call the "bro-ughnut"[3] of New York City, which envelops the creamy center of hipsters (perhaps made from the leftovers from the cupcake shops populating the area) [4]. 

In addition to this spatial-cultural distinction between the much maligned hipsters and bros (or perhaps mirroring it), another longstanding conflict in New York City is between the bohemian artists and the monied class of jet-setting global financiers. Rather than using references to terms in the text of tweets, this map visualizes the relationship between tweets sent by users who self identified as 'bankers' (n=19,037) versus those sent by 'artists' (n=759,027). This difference in numbers also suggests a possible public policy initiative in which every banker is assigned 40 artists to support and nurture.

Tweets by Self-Identified Bankers and Artists in New York City

Rather than the clear circular pattern evidenced in the map of hipsters and bros, the spatial signature of tweets by bankers and artists shows a much more variegated pattern, but with some clear connection with offline geographies associated with these two groups. Tweets from bankers (again shown in the darkest hexagons) tend to be concentrated, unsurprisingly, in the financial district in lower Manhattan. In addition, they can be found in the high-end, exclusive residential areas of the Upper East and West sides of Manhattan, and more suburban locations like New Rochelle, Little Falls and Staten Island. There is also a concentration of bankers tweeting at the area airports, seen most clearly at JFK, but also at the LaGuardia and Newark airports. But given the overall higher number of artists tweeting, it is thus unsurprising that these tweets are much more widely distributed throughout the area, with significant concentrations of activity throughout Brooklyn, upper Manhattan, Queens, and the Bronx.

These two examples illustrate how using more context-appropriate methods for aggregating and visualizing geotagged social media data can provide meaningful (or at least interesting!) insight into the spatial distribution of cultural-economic identities in the city. While this kind of data isn't appropriate for all questions, it allows for an investigation of concepts, ideas and geographies that go beyond those captured by official statistics.

[1] A version of this post (sadly without snarky footnotes) is forthcoming in the Cityscape journal, a publication of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.
[2] As documented by 19th century German archaeologist Heinrich von Kaesewurst-Schmackhaft in his pioneering studies of proto-hipsters and proto-bros in Mesopotamian epic of Gilgamesh. Kaesewurst-Schmackhaft's translation is as follows:
Humbaba’s, (father of all hipsters) mouth is fire;
his roar the floodwater; his breath is death.
Enlil made him guardian of the Cedar Forest before it became cool,
to frighten off the mortal bros who would venture there.

But who would venture there?
Humbaba’s mouth is fire; his roaris the floodwater; he breathes and there is death.He hears the slightest sound somewhere in the ForestAnd comes stalking, enclosed in skinny jeans, pretension and ironyEnlil made him terrifying guardian,
Whose mouth is fire, whose roar the floodwater.
[3] Credit/infamy for this term goes to Doyle Stevick.
[4] According to Google, the phrase "creamy center of hipsters" has never been used before. Another first for the sheep but we can only hope that the phrase is never used again.

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