(Caveat- Generation Sell appeared in The New Republic)
The Internet can, of course, facilitate such connections, but subcultures generally need physical spaces to grow in, because they involve a way of life, not just a set of tastes shared over a communication device. Otherwise, they are more accurately described as “taste cultures,” which may be a better term for the hipster.
The one thing I don’t think will happen is that youth culture will fragment into cultural tribes. [So, just in punk alone, how do you explain Crusties, Garage Punks, Str8-Edgers, Hardcore punks, Pop-punks, Oi! punks... Plus, they usually don't like mixing with other types of punks.]
In a media-saturated world where profit-oriented industries are always desperate for something new to sell to people, those industries themselves will be partly, perhaps largely, responsible for making the next subculture coherent.
I live in Singapore, where opposition subcultures are not allowed (and I mean that in a very real, legal sense). Here, people consume many things they consider to be subcultural, but the ideals of those cultures seem largely absent. So we have local kids who call themselves Skinheads or Mods or Rudies. There are also a lot of kids who just dress in unconventional ways and who are generically known here as hipsters. When you sit down and talk to most of these kids, you don’t find much that is actively political in their identities. Instead, these identities were premade, made available in catalogues and bought by people searching for a way to stand out in a culturally stifling environment. This is akin to what Theodor Adorno called “pseudo individualization” in his critique of popular music. This is not true in all cases to be sure, and I think there is freshness and uniqueness to be found in youth cultures today. So maybe that’s not being fair to many of the kids out there, but my point is that a lot of young people in the US as well as here in Southeast Asia buy into what they believe to be individuality (and being subcultural is often defined by insiders as a way of being free from mainstream constraints), when it fact what they’re buying are mass-produced commodities targeted at them. Understanding who is doing the targeting and why will be important in making sense of what comes next.
There’s really no way of knowing what will emerge after the hipster for several reasons. The first is that the hipster really isn’t a movement at all but rather an affectation that has been perceived as being a movement by a consumer culture desperately in needs of trends.
Now as to whether the Internet and other changes to American life are making this a nation of fragmented cultural tribes the answer is a solid YES!!!!
And do you know what made the Beats, Hippies, and Punks possible more than anything else? There were no distractions. There were three television networks, no cable or satellite. There were only a few radio stations, and they still featured live, local djs. There were no video games, nothing digital, no iPods or mp3 players… there weren’t even cassette players for most of those times. There were no VHS tapes or DVDs or CDs… you wanted to see a movie you had to go to the theater. No Internet of course. No computers of any kind. There were no ATMs or credit cards… no cell phones… there weren’t even xerox machines until the 1970s. The only things we had were each other. The only things we could do was hang out together, talk, have sex, do drugs, and make our own music and art. Yes, there were all the cultural influences I mentioned earlier but the only way to share them all was face to face real human interaction. There unquestionable will be subcultures in the future… but their form and longevity will probably be very, very different than anything that preceded them (unless of course they are revivalist movements). The subculture is dead. Long live the subculture!