When I was a freshman in high school, my sister, then a senior, gave me some sage high school advice, “Dan, you have to be cool.” This was part big sister helping out her little brother and larger part warning not to embarrass her on her turf. Ever since, I have been trying to be cool.
Now, I am thirty-eight years old, have a beautiful family, founded an organization, and grow some amazing food in our family garden. Yet, I have to admit, I sometimes get stressed out over not being cool. Images of my sister hovering over me in her cheerleading outfit and Madonna inspired haircut saying, “Dan, uh, your so not cool!” echo in my head when I walk into a room of cool social entrepreneurs talking about the latest mobile apps they are developing to save the world. What is a guy to do, other than run off and hire someone to develop his own cool mobile app?!
The reality is, we live in a super cool culture. In a world where the jeans you wear, the smartphone you tweet on, and the web apps you are coding mark your social standing, being cool isn’t an option. Keeping up with the Jones has never been so competitive because everything we do is being posted and twittered about online. Being cool is woven into our very cultural fiber.
But come on, is it really killing us? How can a movement defined by Miles Davis, perpetuated by James Dean and evangelized by Jay Z literally be ending life as we know it?
While it is most uncool to say, cool is killing us. Never in the history of man have we been so obsessed with being cool and convinced that we need to consume to be cool. We consume everything from what we eat and drink to what we watch, read, and listen to. Gone are the times we produced for ourselves. The times when a good meal came from the backyard and the public square was center of our self-generated entertainment are only seen on a movie rented from iTunes.
Think about it. When was the last time you actually produced anything? Dinner last night? Or did you simply heat up those noodles and pasta sauce that Kraft produced for you in a factory? Let’s be honest folks, cooking culture and all the cultural richness that goes with it is dying in this country. We don’t cook. We heat up and nuke food that has been mass produced just like our computers and automobiles that are designed to be obsolete in a couple months or years.
Cool has been hijacked by marketing and branding. Cool is mainstream, no longer a counter culture movement that flicked off the mainstream and blazed new paths. Being cool means not questioning but following. Cool makes our decisions for us so we don’t have to think or be bothered with questions about where the resources that make our products come from or how things are made. Asking those questions is simple too time consuming and therefore, uncool.
The inspiration for this blog, and soon book, came when walking past the Apple store on Michigan Avenue a couple years ago. There were hundreds of people standing in line waiting to buy the new iPhone 3. What amazed me was that many of the soon to be consumers of the iPhone 3 were sending emails and posting on Facebook and Twitter how excited they were to buy a new iPhone from their perfectly functioning iPhone 1s and 2s. I could only imagine how many of them were also passionately posting on Facebook how important it is to pass climate change legislation and now ridicule Michelle Bachman on Twitter for doubting the science behind climate change.
We no longer think about what we do and how it affects our society and planet. All that matters is spreading the right message (stop climate change!) with the right device (soon to be iPhone 5) wearing the right cloths (in this case, an organic V-neck T-shirt from American Apparel) on our way to the right event (charity event sponsored by Honest Tea (which is owned by Coca-Cola)).
Agree or disagree, I look forward to sharing with you my arguments for how cool is hijacking our critical thinking and thought process so we take actions that are antithetical to what we espouse to believe. Share your counter arguments or examples of how you see cool as short-circuiting our brains to take actions that work against our well-being.