Is Cool a low bar?

Many years ago, cool was rare. It was hard to find interesting things. You had to read lots of magazines, or find cool friends to hang out with who would show you their cool ways. Cool was cool in part becomes most things were uncool.

But the technology of modern times has made cool is easy.  Twitter is an endless stream of things people find cool. So are some of the most popular blogs like and BoingBoing. We post on Facebook, we email, we tweet, all with excitement, as if it’s still a surprise to be able to find something cool. “Look at this cool video of dancing robots” or “here’s a cool article on Ninjas”. Cool has become a commodity.

I have this saying I think about sometimes – “Cool is a low bar”.

I’m not sure what it means.

I don’t think cool is bad. I like cool. Cool things are fun. Sometimes cool is provocative and inspiring, or earns a smile from a sad face.

But does something cool lead to anything else?

Would we say Buddha was cool? Or Martin Luther King? Are my favorite people and things in the world my favorites primarily because of their coolness? Would I marry a woman primarily because of how cool she was? What about the friend who understands me in the middle of the night, when I’m freaked out about an old fear – is his coolness, or lack their of, meaningful in any way?

There are other words, and other feelings, I think I’d assign to all of these people. Words and feelings that don’t translate as well on the web as cool things do.

If twitter and blogs are, in part, tools for cool. What are the tools for finding things we need, but would never be called cool?

15 Responses to “Is Cool a low bar?”

  1. Peter Edstrom

    I like the idea that “Cool is a low bar”. Most cool things are trite. But I wouldn’t say that is the only way to look at twitter or blogs.

    Some blogs offer depth and thought-through opinions. Twitter offers a lot of “cool”, but it also offers insight into what is current, a “pulse” on the now.

    What you are getting at is the decrease in attention span, which has become alarmingly short (there is a reason commercials are only 30 seconds long). What we need collectively, is to slow down. To think. To ponder. To focus. To carefully evaluate before passing judgment. To make time for a good book. To spend time with our loved ones.

    Its tough to do that with a culture of multitasking, smart phones, and a multitude of connections. Being busy is seen as a good thing, and sitting on the back porch chatting with the neighbor? Well you aren’t getting anything done, so it’s seen bad.

  2. Scott Berkun


    But isn’t the pulse by definition superficial? Or very likely to be superficial? Here’s the current top trending topics on twitter:

    # Oil Spill
    # iPhone
    # Mac
    # Park
    # Users
    # Beach
    # CEO
    # Digital
    # USA

    Certainly not all of this is ‘cool’ – I doubt there are many happy comments about the BP Oil Spill. But what does knowledge of the trending topics mean? What effect does this have (or should it have) on anything else of importance?

    I don’t mean that as a rhetorical question – I really don’t know what the trending topics are supposed to mean for me in the world.

  3. Sean Crawford

    I use cool the way I would use “sweet,” as an adjective for good.
    Back in high school, though, cool had an upper bar: It had to be something the rest of us could aspire to. As in, “I want to copy that guy’s cool fashion, music tape or laid back attitude.” I recall that nerds were often uncool because of their love of having genuine enthusiasm or earnestness, or an interest in history or written sf instead of sci-fi. Cool, for teenagers, was not for the independent ones but for the masses.

    Today cool is in the domain of popular culture because the masses want fast-food low bar stuff, which leads into Peter’s comment of easy (short) attention spans.

    As for having hope for our culture, perhaps people like Peter, without even knowing it, are becoming role models. Perhaps there is a pendulum out there.

    I was astounded to have been a role model for two people in my toastmaster club. Believe me, I don’t purposely model reading essays or books, but a middle-aged lady told me she was going to read essays, and a university student told other students, and me, that she was going to get into reading books because of me, something she had never valued before.

  4. Karel Goodwin

    Once, while driving through a McDonalds drive-through, I saw a poster inside the cashier’s window. It said something like:
    Ordinary People think about other people. Great people think about places and things. Extraordinary people think about Ideas. So all of these people, places, thing, and idea are Cool, but only to some of us. I want ideas.

  5. Elizabeth King

    I would like to posit that Martin Luther King and the Buddha, Jesus and Ghandi, St. Theresa…. these folks were probably some of the “coolest” people that ever lived. I’d also use words like “badass” to describe them.

    I think the challenge is to not get sucked into the masses’ “cool,” but to redefine it and change the culture so that your wife is coolest person you’ve ever met, that the thought leaders we turn to are revered as completely awesome. I sincerely think it’s a cultural crusade that we Must lead.

    Let’s not lower ourselves to some schlocky cool; let’s elevate cool so that it’s something worth aspiring to for the sake of brilliance, ingenuity, and communication across the culture.

    1. Scott Berkun

      Elizabeth: I really like this – elevated Cool. Or Cool++. Cool with meaning. Very cool :)

  6. Jérôme Radix

    It seems this site offers downloads of the tools that really works and that we need. You don’t have all the tools there, they are not selecting tools based on their coolness, only there usefulness.

  7. Larissa Meek

    I think the way in which we find things… the utility or process of something can be considered cool. How about the signage at a grocery store that tells you whats in the aisle?

    Definitely not considered cool but I can’t imagine going into a grocery store and trying to find what I need without the mundane signs – so I guess that makes them kind of cool.

  8. Karie

    Amazing is the new cool. It is overused today just like “cool” was when it was in its heyday. Everyone says “That is AMAZING!” (severe stress on the amazing word), and they say it about everything from JC to Buddha to the tuna fish sandwich they picked up at the new deli for lunch.

    I suspect it has something to do with the speed at which we live today, thanks to all the technology. Everyone is wrapped up in their own little technological world: on the phone, listening to music, texting. It takes something AMAZING to get them to stop and interact with the world around them. It has to be AMAZING to get their attention. Think about the pace of life back when things were “cool”. Life was “cool”. Amzing seems to up the ante to fit our frantic pace now.

  9. Daniel Szuc

    Cool suggests a fad, a moment, something short term. Perhaps the challenge is how to move beyond cool and to something more long lasting?

  10. Dan

    When cool is in reference to fashion or personality (put on personality), it’s usually exclusionary. Joe is cool and you’re not. This is cool at it’s ugliest because it servers primarily to feed needy psyches.

    Cool things, places, events, ideas usually have some characteristic that solves a problem or provides utility or aeshetics in a unique or novel way.

  11. Sean Crawford

    Yes, interesting. Cool can be both inclusive and exclusive in the sense that it can require personal effort, an effort most won’t make, rather than being merely as a result of social rank, fame or fortune. I am thinking of a young lady who labeled people as cool… if they had become liberated enough to be safely told she was gay.

    i suppose then modern art, requiring evolved taste, would be more cool that photographic realism. It is sad to me (and boring) that when a small town tries to get more tourists by putting up public art, paint or sculpture, it is always realistic stuff.

    I heard once (a dim, unverified memory) that cool as a special good was used by jazz musicians when jazz was not cool to the masses… and that the players would seem removed, or cool, because they didn’t relate to those in the audience who could not appreciate jazz. (Such a contrast to a folk singer!)



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