Maybe the least interesting thing Josh Constine, 29, tells me is that he used to live in the "Enchanted Broccoli Forest." (I later google it and discover it's an artists co-op at Stanford.)
In person, Constine, a prolific writer for TechCrunch, speaks in long, whimsical sentences. In writing, he's known in industry circles for his personal and professional ebullience — which often makes him a keen target for controversy.
But today, we're only talking about hair.
Constine's infamous signature 'do, a single brown curl that drapes across the right side of his forehead, has a name: the "Omnibang." It's been featured on Product Hunt, immortalized on DeviantArt, and photoshopped onto everything from meerkats to angel investors.
BuzzFeed sat down with Constine in his residence, an "artists warehouse" in the Mission that he shares with four roommates, to get the backstory on the bang. (He first points out a huge teddy bear on his coffee table, which he used as a prop in a "dramatic table flipping contest" he entered earlier in the week. He didn't win.)
So I've heard that you actually have a philosophy of your hair, and that it ties into your general philosophy of life.
Josh Constine: My philosophy is that the more we see in life, the happier we get. The core virtue to start with is curiosity, and curiosity leads you to exploration. Through exploration, you see new things and you gain perspective. When you have perspective, you gain a shared perspective with other people who you might not have understood before. And from that shared perspective, you discover a sense of compassion for them.
From that comes this urge to do service, this duty to help other people and try to improve the situation for them in their lives. And from that service comes real fulfillment, because when you give, that's when you feel the best. And from that fulfillment comes a sense of gratitude for the universe that you're even able to be in the position that you're helping others. From that feeling of gratitude to the universe comes joy and true happiness.
The core philosophy emerged just over the past six months, which is where curiosity, exploration, perspective, shared perspective, compassion, service, fulfillment, gratitude, happiness combine.
I think you need to make a catchy acronym for that. So tell me how this all ties in to your philosophy of your appearance.
JC: My hair, which I call the Omnibang, allows me to express my inner eccentricity on the outside. In our day-to-day lives both online and offline, we breeze by more people than we could ever have real relationships with. I think we need a way to sort through those people to help us find who's relevant, who has aligned philosophies with us. For me, those are inventors and artists, people trying to do something new, which helps lead into that philosophy of exploration.
So would you consider yourself an artist and/or an inventor?
JC: More of, like, a journalist. My goal is to illuminate artists and inventors and right the wrongs that are preventing joy. But I think that inventors and artists are the ones that I align with most.
If I looked like everyone else, those people would never have a reason to just come and strike up a conversation with me. If I went and tried to talk to them, they might be a bit hesitant because I looked like an outsider and I wouldn't understand them. If I looked normal, they might not talk to me.
Do you really think that's true?
JC: I think they would be more hesitant to dive into a deep conversation with me. My goal is get past small talk. I don't want to hear about, like, what you did this weekend and are you doing any traveling soon?
So you're saying the Omnibang is a catalyst for those kinds of deeper conversations.
JC: Yes. So when I approach [people], right off the bat they see the hair and they're like, "This guy is more than he seems. He's not just another random person." And they become much more willing to talk to me. If they see me across the room, they might even come over and start a conversation with me.
And they do?
JC: This works. I went to the Sundance Film Festival, and I met fashion designers and virtual reality cinematographers who felt like there was some immediate kinship because I was ~visibly~ weird.
And then there's also a professional use to it all in that I'm a tech journalist. I'm tweeting a lot, my face is on articles, and I'm in demo videos and things, but that's all online, and I want to connect with those people offline. If I come across them, I have no idea what they look like. I don't know who my readers are. But if they've seen me online, the hair makes it really easy for them to identify me in person.
Even last week, I was walking up to a game developer conference party, and a guy came out and walked by me and then stopped and did a double take and then somewhat sheepishly came up and was like, "Hey, are you that TechCrunch guy?" and I was like, "Yeah," and he was like "J……osh? Con...stine?" He's like, "Dude, I read your stuff, I didn't think I would actually get to meet the people I read online in real life." And I immediately got to have this true exchange of ideas with someone I'd never met.
All based on the hair. So I want to hear the origin story.
JC: When I was about 18, my hair was short. I proceeded to not cut my hair for a year. I end up going through college with a big mobby mess of curls, and once I got more serious about journalism, I cleaned it up a bit. But I've always liked for it to be asymmetrical, because even then I felt like there was this need for me to express myself externally somehow.
One of my favorite things to do is go out dancing at these underground speakeasy warehouse dance parties in San Francisco, and I went out one night and danced a bunch, and my hair got all wet. I came home and went to sleep and when I woke up it had curled up in the front like this. [points to Omnibang]
JC: Right! And I was like... "What is this??" It looked weird for sure, but I kind of like that. If I leave my hair wet overnight, it will curl up like this normally, but I also figured out that if I got out of the shower and just twisted my hair around in a little corkscrew [demonstrates] and I just hold it there for about 10 seconds and let it fall, when it dries, that's how it dries.
So you don't use product??
JC: NO product. That's the secret. I think the thing is, not a lot of other people's hair can do this. I'm half English, half Jewish. I think it's something about the degree of curliness of those two heritages that puts it together.
When you get a haircut, do you just tell them, like, leave the curl alone?
JC: I go to Public Barber in the Tenderloin, and the hairstylists tend to really dig it. They're like, "We're not gonna touch THAT, right?" and I'm like, "You got that right."
What's the next iteration?
JC: If I was going to do something different I might tuck it back behind my ear, which gives it more of a subtle feel and keeps it out of my eyes. It's all fun and games until it gets in my food. Occasionally it'll flop down into my glass.
The thing is, it's hated, is probably the best way to describe it. A lot of people online hate the Omnibang.
Do they tell you to your face or do they just, like, tweet at you?
JC: Occasionally I'll have some random heckler on the street, like a frat bro, yell something like "Hey, nice hair!" sarcastically. But online, whenever TechCrunch posts a video, most of the comments are like, "I can't even pay attention because of that dude's stupid hair flopping around."
Well, that sounds like it's working ~against~ you, then.
JC: [pauses] I don't think being hated by trolls and internet loudmouths is the worst thing in the world. Usually most style, art, a lot of things that are important aren't universally loved. Well, let me rephrase that: I do NOT think my hair is important. That is not the right word. But I think that eccentricity is often derided by people who might not feel as comfortable with their own identity and the way they express themselves. Being expressive is also being vulnerable.
When I was younger, I cared so much more about wanting to come off as normal and not be weird and fit in. I think a lot of kids feel like they're sort of desperate to fit in. But eventually I went on this trip to Thailand and I went backpacking by myself for a month and I didn't have to compromise my plans or explain myself to anyone. And it sort of distilled my identity and burned off the impurities. And I came back more myself. I went from trying to do the thing that I thought other people would like to just doing the thing that I like. And what I found is that it attracted a group of people who liked me for who I really was. And it's fun to just let your hair down and be yourself.
So to speak.
JC: [laughs] Yeah. It's so much more fun to be around people who love you for being yourself. I've settled into [my identity], and if that means having some element that unifies my personal brand, then that's the Omnibang.
How did you come up with the term Omnibang?
JC: I think the superpower that I always wanted was omnipresence, because I love exploration and curiosity and I always wanted to be in as many places at once. The saddest thing is when two things are happening at the same time. So I think maybe that prefix omni- was in my head. I used to have all these bangs, but now I just have one bang.
It's everywhere at once, in spirit.
JC: Right. It's all my bangs condensed into one. It is one bang to rule them all. The Omnibang.
Would you cut it off?
JC: The only reason I would ever cut off the Omnibang would be as part of a fundraiser for charity where I got my haters to donate money in exchange for me cutting this stupid thing off of my face. If I could raise maybe five or ten thousand dollars for a good cause, like Locks of Love or a charity that helps with arts programs in disadvantaged communities, one that helps people express themselves. A charity towards hair or self-expression.