Cool used to be amazing, strange and unattainable. Why was James dean cool? Or Bob Dylan? Were they just mavericks and that makes them cool? Then why isn’t John McCain cool? Or Tom Cruise?
The idea of cool, pretty much invented out of whole cloth in the sixties to reflect the fire that burned inside disaffected youth growing up in England after the war is old. Â The first ones found their own path, and that aura migrated across the pond to America in the shape of fashion and music to combine with Andy Warhol and a clear hatred of the grey-flannel suit /organization man crowd. Thus, rock and roll, hippies, punks, slackers and hipsters.
The second companies realized people in that age group desired cool, it was marketers’ job to make everything appear cool. Â Airplane travel, sunglasses, books, German cars, comedy variety hours, jeans, the list goes on.
The end is near
Then Gen X got a whiff of it, cried “bullshit” in their day (remember Lloyd Dobbler in Say Anything not wanting to making anything processed or sold) and spend their youth avoiding it. Â Their younger siblings learned that yes, all that crap sucked, but that nothing they did was going to change the commercialization of cool, so they might as well dance, so to speak.
This world has entered a phase where Toyota is doing a great job trying to sell Cool Minivans (aka swagger wagons) to grownÂ up gen x-ers now that Dennis Hopper has died selling his kin on income planning and investment.
Cool is dead. It went comatose decades ago, but the marketing world kept it on life support for as long as it could because it had just learned how to leverage cool for their own uses. But we’re pulling the plug.
So what comes after cool? Before cool, there was conformity, before that there was loyalty and patriotism, and before that fear, and before that reckless abandon.
My guess? Freedom.
This isn’t just about marketing or capturing a hindsight zeitgeist (like I did two paragraphs ago), but about thinking what will the world (more to the point, my world, the internet and capitalistic worlds) will desire. Â It’s not about 40-yo dads at Wilco shows because they are terrified about growing old and uncool, but about looking at a broad sweep of anything and choosing what to believe in and what to enjoy.
Patton Oswalt penned an interesting article in Wired about the death of geekery and pop culture otaku nerdery. Â He says the wide horizon of anything and everything being available to you at a moment’s notice to dive into deeply is actually destroying pop culture. Â That as he was writing the article, someone was already writing the version of the same article in LOL speak and another as if written by the Hulk and another spoken over a Korean cover of a journey song. That was what was going to ruin pop culture.
Yes, maybe, and, no. His argument relies on cool as the primary currency. You can’t be cool outside of the Lost fan group if you know who Jack’s dad is, but you can’t be cool inside the group if you don’t. Â Cool is the currency that determines the value of that knowledge. What if the currency devalues? Who cares if you know or don’t know a factoid. You can google (sure, I’ll just lower-case that word) it, right? If anything is available 24/7, there’s no cache is knowing or not. You’ve printed so much money, no one cares how much you have.
Hacking Is the New Cool
Freedom to choose your life is the new goal. Â Look at the rise of hacking culture (not the g33ks in black t-shirts, but the people who are teaching us how to be better eaters, exercisers, workers, thinkers, time managers, completers, anything). Look at Tim Ferriss and his two books that challenge you to rethink everything you know about jobs and health. Â Both NYT bestsellers. Or Getting Things Done and the cult that has formed around that. The garage tinkerers who love buying Ikea furniture and turning it into other prices of furniture that better fit their lifestyles.
This isn’t self help, who’s primary goal is to make you feel better, but about being better. The hacker has learned that they can lose weight if they stand at their desk in their day job, but can’t afford a $600-$1,000 standing desk, so they learn how to hack their existing desk for less than $50. They learn how to use existing tools to ditch their cable account and still watch Top Chef. They trade credit score secrets.
Hacking is the first step to understanding freedom. You can’t choose a thing if you can’t build, use, or change a thing. Â We value the choices we make more if we have to work a little to make them happen.
Freedom to select your love and your job and your lifestyle is the new cool. It’s the kind of trend that will define the post-post-industrial age more than any other.
Proof: name the Internet meme that captured more awareness than the 2010 Iranian protests. Sure, you can, but there are only a handful, and they are all designed around kids. Turning your twitter icon green got people who don’t care about Bed Intruders to care about something that was happening on the other side of the planet. Â Choice and freedom is good, getting more people to feel that choice and freedom is even better. Look at the fury over iPod assemblers having a bizarrely high suicide rate. Â Look at the coverage over the Sudan, which, for the first time in a decade, is making the front page of the papers.
Cool is dead. Freedom grows up.