Please let me be uncool!


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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.

Be uncool,
Dan

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12 responses to “Please let me be uncool!

  1. Cool is replacing consciousness. It is an un-consciousness maintained with noise, lights, and stuff . Too bad becasue cool started from an awareness to ‘let go’. You were cool when you could ‘let go’ of those rigid meaningless rules, let go of square convention. And now it is the opposite a drive to hold on to all you can get and to get more. Lets go back to the beginning of cool lets go back to a consciousness of cool when it is cool to let go of all the cars, clothes, apps, anger and greed.

    • Well put. Miles Davis and Coltrane played Jazz to disconnect and escape from a society that they didn’t (want to) comprehend. Beats did the same thing with their writing. Now we buy disposable t-shirts with quotes from Howl on the front. But hey, at least they are made from organic cotton from the deserts of Egypt.

  2. The whole point is to be brave enough to remain counter-cultural in the right ways, for the right reasons. Don’t be a conformist. Don’t be a nonconformist. Just do what is right, and you’ll always be #uncool!

  3. Kristi, good point. I would say that what is most important is to be a critical thinker, don’t just act, buy or not act because it is cool. We have to get back to a culture that things about the cause and effect of our actions.

  4. What you classify as “cool” is just mainstream. American culture has always had mainstream, required tools of the trade. The ipad, iphone, American Apparel are just the 2011 versions of the Walkman, floppy disks and Levis.

    Real cool is and will always be, that which is set apart from and ahead of the mainstream. Like an escapee from the prison of the mundane.

    • Lisa, I agree in part. There is still counter culture cool, but cool has been co-opted. Dr. Dre in a lot of ways is a modern day Miles Davis and is the definition of cool but he shills for Dr. Pepper. You can say he sold out (he did), but for most, he is still very cool. Being cool now is simply a way to “win” in our society. Selling out used to be a bad thing but now people think you are stupid if you don’t cash in. The crux of what I want to get at in this blog is how the feeling of wanting to be cool (and maybe that is the real point) stops us from thinking and forces us to just act. You see something you want, you say to yourself, “that is soooooo cool” and you just buy it. No thought, no consideration, no critical thinking, just satisfy your desire. Part of that is possible because we no longer have any idea how anything is made.. We are clueless about the journey products take to get into our greedy little hands. So we may sign a petition to stop the conflict in Congo while standing in line to buy the new iPhone, which has conflict materials in it. We just don’t know, and we don’t bother to ask because we can continue the appearance of caring about the Conogo by signing petitions on Change.org while fueling the war with the purchase of a new cool iPhone. Love to hear your thoughts.

  5. Funny, Miles Davis’ later work was the cause of a major beef with Winton Marsalis for the very same “sell out” accusation you hang on Dr Dre. Perhaps the natural de-volution of all things cool is to sell out. Hence Dr Dre, no longer cool.
    On your other point, cool as motivation but execution of “cool” behavior lacking depth of thought, tragic but also a familiar pattern of American culture. Our awareness of it may be heightened because people’s choices are more easily tracked and quantified.
    Is merely signing a petition cool?

    • Maybe Miles Davis gave us the Birth of Cool and the death of cool, showed us that commercial interests can always play on people’s desire to be cool.

      Are you familiar with Robert Putnam’s Bowling Alone? In that context I say just signing a petition is not cool. We are at a point where we have to think critically about our lifestyle. We have to do more than just tweet or post on Facebook. We have to engage in dialogue and we have to chance our behavior. And we have to realize that the lifestyle we have been given is not the only option and by no means is it as amazing as the television makes it out to be.

  6. I am not familiar with Bowling Alone, but thanks for broadening my horizons. Definitely support critical thinking and against media hype. Woody Allen has a recent movie, Midnight in Paris, where a screenwriter idolizes and through some time travel trick experiences Paris in the 1920’s and all its requisite fun figures — Cole Porter, the Fitzgeralds, Hemingway, Stein and a beautiful young woman who is the lover of a couple of those folks. The screenwriter and the woman then in turn travel to Paris in the Belle Epoque where they meet Lautrec, Degas and Gaugin. These artists mock their time just as the screenwriter mocks his 2010 culture, almost verbatim. The screenwriter then realizes that it is not the era but the attitude that is essential in finding one’s place in the world.

    The acting in the movie is a bit lame, but the story is adorable and relevant to your quest.

  7. Yep, I feel like the whole world is high school. The thing is I’ve never cared about “cool” not even as a child and so I feel like I’m trapped in hell living on this planet with a whole society that cares only about cool. Well, I guess the only thing to do is enjoy Jesus and the joy of simple things.

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