How should we quantify coolness? (from the comments)

David H. writes:

Yes, this Forbes list is a miserable failure, but it got me thinking about how to quantify coolness. Good restaurants are valuable, but to be cool, restaurants also need to be affordable and a little off-putting. If I were doing this, I would generate a list of touring bands that rank highly in RYM, knock out the superstars, and then see what US cities they played in the last 4 years. Each band-visit would count as a portion of coolness for that city, and a partial portion for the immediate vicinity. Also, RYM records which cities the bands came from. That should count for a lot. Then I would look for cities with an outsized and lively gay scene. I’m not sure how the causation works – whether a gay scene adds substantial coolness or whether it follows coolness – but the correlation seems pretty clear to me.

Coolness is unstable partly because it’s much more difficult to achieve in expensive cities. San Francisco and Berkeley are sinking in coolness partly for this reason. A truly cool city needs a critical mass of underemployed creative types who will devote a great deal of time to “the scene”, and this is hard to do when you’re paying $6+ for each of your beers. So, the lower the urban rents and general cost of living, the cooler the city, other things being equal.

OK, Forbes was right that proportion of young people living in the city is important. I also think that trends are important, like: Which cities are gaining young people, and which are losing them?

What else?

The link to RYM was added by me.  I would think that a truly cool place cannot be rated as cool by too many other sources.  How about that retirement community in Florida, an incorporated city, ruled largely by contract, where only the elderly live and the visits of grown children are regulated and rationed?  How about the city in America which has the highest birth rate?  Isn’t that kind of cool?  Seriously.  That would put Memphis, Ogden, and Provo in the lead.  What’s so cool about tracking RYM?

Comments

Not what, why.

Are we still in high school or something? Or is this the eternal adolescence of aging wannabes?

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dont you have something marginally productive to do ?

Seriously. Tyler, you are not cool. You don't know what cool is. No offense, neither does anyone else here. Not even Ray Lopez.

Boundaries please.

Someday, somewhere, let me buy you a $6 beer for that hilarious comment....

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That's why we're asking?

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Of course Ray doesn't: he sits on piles of money and serenades the mirror. That's not how you do cool. My vote goes to Rahul, for casually referencing obscure Danish cinema and seasonal trends at Frankfurt Int'l.

Rahul is extraordinary, but I reserve cool determinations for more evidence than is usually available on a blog. Does he ride a motorcycle, climb mountains, play Jazz guitar, wear linen suits, know how to cook swordfish...

From that list, I only ride a motorcycle and cook swordfish, but I do them both at the same time. Is that cool?

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I have a magnificent beard.

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Most mortals can aspire only to degrees of coolness. Riding a motorcycle puts you above most cagers.

A magnificent beard is cool, unless you have offsetting uncool points...like Robert Reich.

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------"Not even Ray Lopez."

Yeah, it's hard to imagine anything less cool than bragging about your great success in the world of sex tourism.

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Coolness, vibrancy, etc. mostly come down to the quantity and quality of attractive women walking about, especially at night.

That seems to breakdown at the joints. Williamsburg is certainly cooler than the Upper East Side, but the latter definitely has more beautiful women on the street.

Williamsburg may be hip, but it certainly ain't cool.

And the Upper East Side is neither, so his rebuttal stands. Tons of pretty women in Dallas, but Dallas isn't very 'cool', whatever that is.

Cool is where the pretty women are on your arm or singing on stage with a quartet behind them.

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Coolness is an upward slope in the quality / quantity of attractive women.

And therefore a downward slope on the quality of food?

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That narrows it down to sunbelt cities with very large public universities and cities with concentrations of wealthy heterosexual men. Basically New York, NY and Tempe, AZ.

"How about that retirement community in Florida, an incorporated city, ruled largely by contract, where only the elderly live and the visits of grown children are regulated and rationed?"

Only if STD rates count.

cities with concentrations of wealthy heterosexual men. -

But that would make my hometown cool, which it is not. Wealthy, childless men?

A wealthy man doesn't need to be single, childless or good looking to be attractive to women.

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"Then I would look for cities with an outsized and lively gay scene" This made me LOL first, then I was thinking: "maybe he's right"

Here are few things that add coolness to a city:

1. Good and affordable food spots/restaurants (food trucks make a place cool)
2. Concerts - diversity and quality help (Jazz festival, summer festival, international bands, "On The Run Tour" date)
3. Social media traffic: Instagram and Twitter hash tags
4. Hipster population
5. Colorful politic scene
6. Multi ethnicity

If more and more attractive women aren't showing up, you are just kidding yourself that your place is cool.

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First I find out my coolness coefficient is zero, then on the way out some snarky kid tells me "coolness coefficient" is an oxymoron.

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How about the rate of heroin use? Or LSD? If those were the metrics, what cities would show up as false positives?

Note that other drugs wouldn't work. Too many lawyers use cocaine, weed is ubiquitous, meth is for rednecks, ecstasy is too fruity and booze gets us nowhere.

This isn't Greenwich Village in the 1960s, high rates of heroin and LSD are going to correlate with high rates of burn outs on a downward spiral. Not exactly cool anymore.

Heroin and LSD are still found mainly in cities and neighborhoods with a lot of creative types. Wasn't just a 60s thing. It's a high-risk taking/seeking new experiences thing. If none of the young artists and musicians in your "cool scene" are junkies, it's a scene full of posers. Not that the junkies themselves are cool, but they tend to be the products of an art scene that is hardcore, which is usually indicative of coolness in the community. Does anyone doubt that Seattle was genuinely cool in the 90s? Or Austin?

Fair point. Though I would say that stimulant party drugs like Cocaine and MDMA are probably more so associated with the current high-risk taking party lifestyle that is associated with cool scenes across the U.S.

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This "cool" really flags you as an old guy. At the very least "cool" has been eclipsed by "awesome" (often pronounced "ossum").

When my nephew likes a restaurant, he calls it "dank."

Interesting. The etymology of the word dank derives from very good marijuana.

No, it does not.

Fine. If you want to be pedantic, I will amend my statement:

The etymology of the use of the word dank to connote something of exceptionally high quality comes from its usage to describe very good marijuana.

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I've only ever heard that word in regard to some mj.

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For some reason, this thread reminded me of the 'Permanent Floating Riot Club'. Now, how cool is that?

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Or we could count the cheap seats at the baseball stadium.

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You need negatives, too. I would say cities should get negative coolness points for each resident with more than one facial piercing or more than 15% of the surface area of their limbs that covered in tattoos. Residents with green, blue, purple, and other odd colored hair are also a negative. Negative points for each obese resident. Negative points for each car registered in the city that's more than 15 years old and isn't a luxury or sports car. Etc.

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The very idea that you can quantify coolness is the very essence of uncool. What's your unit of measure? The Value of Replacement Fonzi?

Let's face it. Coolness is an anachronism. Coolness embodies a certain effortlessness and economy of movement. The dominant ethos now is one of frantic geekiness, the constant desire to enumerate, evaluate and rank every bit of the known universe. it is interesting and valuable in measures, but it is not at all cool.

The first season of The Simpsons, Martin Prince quantifies the coolness of seats on the bus as inversely correlated to the distance to the bus driver.

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If birthrate is important, would that make Catholics and Mormons the coolest religions?

Catholics do know how to party.

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I completely agree with David H about coolness - since I despise everything in his description, it epitomizes what I would flee from.

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"How about the city in America which has the highest birth rate?"

It is not obvious which direction the relationship would be.
The city with nothing else to do might have a relatively high birth rate.
The city with lots of stuff for young people to do while drinking might have a relatively high birth rate.

Maybe it would identify the extremes on the cool/boring continuum?

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Cool is simply that which single young men without money produce to attract beautiful young women.

Ask yourself what makes a bar cool.

When high school was the place where mates were found (in the 50s), high school was cool.
Now that mates are found almost a decade later, it is precisely that age group that is cool.

Places that are uncool are:

Rich neighborhoods (already attract beautiful young women, no need for coolness)
Poor neighborhoods (young women tend to be obese or with children)
Suburbs / Mormons (beautiful women are already attached)
Engineering school / natural resource towns (insufficient supply of beautiful women)

A place becomes cool when artists or musicians (the apex predators of cool) manage to begin attracting beautiful young women to a place without great economic appeal (SF, 60s, Austin and Brooklyn, 2000s). These women in turn attract men with money, who gentrify out the cool creators, causing the place to slowly become uncool (SF today, Austin ten years from now).

College towns remain permanently cool, as their demographics ensure a constant inflow of beautiful young women and clever young men of limited economic means.

Why then are we discussing this on an economics blog? The vast majority of people are not in the high quality mate seeking market, either due to successful exit or insufficient appeal.

While that's a good jumping off point, I'm not sure if that's the final analysis of cool. Western white english teachers in Seoul probably attract the most beautiful women relative to their economic earnings. Yet I don't think they represent anything close to the epitome of "cool".

Actually, in Seoul, they are the epitome of cool.

That's precisely why the famously materialistic women there want to be with them in spite of their low income.

To econ-blog reading nerds like us they may be somewhat grating, as would be the trendy people of whatever trendy place is trendy now, but you and I are clearly not the target market.

I'd say what you're defining isn't necessarily "cool" so much as it is "douchey." Things men do that aren't cool, but attract women are douchey. Frat-guys aren't cool, they're douchebags, which is a very specific type of uncool, and maybe no more than a few degrees removed. Unfortunately that leaves the precise. definition of cool still nebulous.

Doug, I agree and good comments below too. (There are plenty of cool women too, classic example Lauren Bacall, so sam's definition strikes me as lacking too.) As David H. surmised coolness is "unstable" and you added "nebulous." It is probably easier to measure the necessary conditions of coolness (young people, artistic/innovative culture, and financial/infrastructure support) rather than measure coolness itself. If there is a formula then it is not cool and once it can be mass produced it is no longer cool. And with no sufficient conditions for coolness, of course there will be some false positives. Still I think it's an interesting question.

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Women don't generate 'cool.' They orbit 'cool' or adopt 'cool.'

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+1

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Considering the ratio Quality/Quantity; Salvador and Rio (Brazil) are the places I saw more attractive women in my life and both places are pretty cool but I think Tokyo is streets ahead of both when it comes to coolness. Tokyo, in my book, is the coolest city in the world.

Great food, women are not bad, it mixes perfectly heritage with avant-garde thinking. It has soul and personality but its open minded spirit keeps it from being a closed fortress. The people preserve their roots but are always open to new things from other places and I think it's pretty cool.

The amount of pretty women is not the only factor for me. A professional sports team, a good music scene, parks where the city meets, good food, good transportation, vibrant artistic community, a certain level of freedom, good bars, nightclubs and quality strip clubs add coolness to a place.

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This is pretty close, but I think it's more like "cool" has traditionally been what attractive young women with interesting tastes like in men who have the potential to cash in big, whether in money or prestige or both, in some interesting way: e.g., Jackson Pollock in 1950 living like a bum but still getting invited to Peggy Guggenheim's mansion. Without _potential_ money/fame, cool doesn't get off the ground.

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"College towns remain permanently cool"

Not unless there's a potential money / fame making mechanism. Most college towns are static. Austin became cool in the 1970s with the development of infrastructure and publicity for an alternative to Nashville as a way for country musicians to get rich/famous.

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Obviously coolness is best quantified with complex numbers. It's multi-dimensional, and partly imaginary.

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If affordability is a factor then doesn't Chicago win in a landslide? Much cheaper than NYC-DC-SF-LA-Bos

Funny that you mention Chicago. Pairing your comment with sam's above, it is certainly the case within Chicago that a certain center of cool gravity, originating in Lincoln Park 40 years ago, and then fanning out, colonized by poor artistic males who can afford to live in dicey areas, who are driven on every several years by the rising property values generated in their cool wake. DePaul, Old Town, Wrigleyville, Bucktown, Wicker Park, South Loop, Logan Square, Ukrainian Village. So it goes. My list is, I'm sure, a good decade out of date. Because I'm not cool. Of course, Lincoln Park is crazy expensive and profoundly uncool at this point.

Perhaps this is less likely in towns with generally high property values.

I spent a week on business in Chicago about 20 years ago. I was favorably impressed.

Am slated to spend two weeks there beginning 8/25. Am looking forward to it.

Of course, at 64 my idea of cool is awaking each day and all the plumbing still works . . .

Here's my list of cool (would spend a month slumming with unlimited funds) cities: San Francisco, NYC (I live here), Chicago, Alburqerque, Ketchikan, . . . Got to go.

I wouldn't count yourself as uncool just because you're 64. Bowie's three years older than you.

Bowie is cool.

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Cool here is reserved for cool cats. You can't have cool without cigars, billiards, gin, and Jazz.

Your list is perfect for the 1920s

Look, this is fun, but let's be honest you can't define 'cool', and once you do it's no longer 'cool', and true 'cool' is about not trying to be 'cool' and all that. Also it's really subjective.

You're hanging with the wrong faces in the wrong places.

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Unfortunately for Chicago, the major Texas cities are even more affordable and are attracting lots of young professionals and ethnic dining options.

Having to drive everywhere is not cool.

Living near the cool places is cool.

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Oh yeah, driving is flat out uncool. Very difficult to be cool and then drive home. Coolness implies some sort of devil may care attitude which cannot involve going to get your car and then driving.

I lived in Wicker Park in Chicago when it was cool, with artists, in an old converted bathhouse. We had huge photographs on the walls, huge paintings on the walls. I used to be actually cool.

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Food in Chicago is light-years ahead of anywhere in Texas. Chicago is likely the culinary capital of America. Without a doubt it blows LA, San Fran and DC out of the water. New York is its only plausible rival, and while NYC probably has your favorite chef, Chicago probably has your favorite chef's favorite chef.

Agree.

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haha. Texas has a lot to overcome to be cool. Affordability is only part of the equation.

In general, winter and fall clothes are cooler than summer clothes, so Texas is starting with a huge handicap no matter how cheap the housing, simply due to the clothes.

Then, Football is inherently uncool. Football is by far the least cool sport, even after accounting for the uncoolness of sports overall. Proximity to people who like sports and especially football is uncool all by itself. You do not even need to like football yourself, simply being near people who do like football is uncool. Texas has to overcome this as well.

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everything cool is found on the internet, sorry guys.
like vaporwave for example

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ki-fATpXa00

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One word: Montreal.

Hockey is cool.

(Too many metaphors in this thread)

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They even have a Formula 1 race. That's cool.

Sports are not cool. You might get away with liking the Premier league or the Bundesliga. MLS is kinda cool. F1 maybe too.

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How about that retirement community in Florida, an incorporated city, ruled largely by contract, where only the elderly live and the visits of grown children are regulated and rationed?

You probably mean The Villages, the huge retirement community that also happens to have one of the country's highest STD rates. Guess that's pretty cool.

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Watching a bunch of nerds try to quantify "cool" is pretty hilarious. Similar to listening to down home types discuss economics policies that they have no understanding of. At least come up with a less fraught term for whatever it is that you're trying to measure.

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Hmm, I sense a little Tyrone in this post. Maybe a cool city is one that offers a variety of (seemingly endless) new experiences. Well that rules out cookie-cutter white people places where it's safe to either raise or leave a family, sorry Provo, most of NoVa, and FL retirement village. Bass pro shops inside of pyramids probably hurt the coolness of city (ouch, Memphis). Plus a city can't really be cool, its neighborhoods are either cool or not. So do we say a city is cool based on the relative size of cool neighborhoods, max(neighborhood_coolness), etc.?

Overall, a heuristic for a cool place is probably one in which you walk around and it makes you squirm a little (or a lot), but you can't help but people watch. Also, it may be cool if your initial reaction is that you "hate it," "don't get it," if it's "too fast-paced for me," or if you write a Yelp review of a local business describing it as being "hipster" in an attempt to be derogatory.

Here's a model:
coolness_it= coolness_i,t-n + walkscore_it - racial_Herfindahl_index_it + yelp_reviews_containing_"hipster"_it - #_hard_rock_cafes + #_limited_release_films_it_gets_first_it - bass_pro_shop_it + e_it

Looking for suggestions to add to the model, but let's not overfit please.

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I suggest to come up with an empirical measure of coolness we look at really uncool places. So looking at cities over 200k pop that aren't suburbs, what are the least cool?

I nominate Spokane, Bakersfield, Modesto, Stockton, Milwaukee, Birmingham, Boise, and Norfolk.

Sure there are lots of other crappy uncool towns, but just think of your reaction when somebody tells you they are from the above list. Being from Provo or Laredo is cooler than any of the above.

Boise has live music in coffee shops. That's cool.

Milwaukee....There was a time.

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"How about the city in America which has the highest birth rate? Isn’t that kind of cool? Seriously. That would put Memphis, Ogden, and Provo in the lead."

LOL. Way to dodge that one, Tyler. Hope you didn't injure yourself.

I think sam got it right. "Cool" happens when young men without a lot of material wealth do innovative things to attract good-looking women. This is also why the Dick Florida Thesis is so wrong.

Okay, so then how come everything that attracts women is cool, *except* money. I'm not saying money is cool, I think it's pretty clear that chill-wave musicians are cooler than derivative traders. But you're just pushing the level of arbitrariness. Instead of saying these things are classified as cool for no compelling reason, you're saying that everything except money is cool, but can't give a compelling reason why money is uncool. If spending all your free time to get good at skateboarding is cool, why isn't spending all your time to start a successful HVAC business cool?

And for that matter is every non-monetary thing done to attract women actually cool? For one thing adding three inches to your biceps is going to appeal to a lot more females than pretty much any hobby you can take up. But I don't think those steroid popping guys on Jersey Shore would be considered very cool, outside a small sub-culture. Along that line most of the "pick-up artist" community is all about innovating ways to attract women (fake ATM receipts, stupid attention-grabbing outfits, etc.). But the vast majority of the population would look at those guys and consider them losers.

Women certainly tend to be attracted to "cool," but that's not its defining property. Maroon 5 is way less cool than Animal Collective, but the former's shows tend to be much more heavily female biased.

The reason that "except money" is there is because wealth and status have always been attractive. Sadly, most people don't have much of either.

That's precisely what the point of cool is - it is the outsider's attempt to gain access to that which the insiders (who have wealth) already have. In order to do so, the outsider must create an alternate hierarchy that is simultaneously appealing to women and difficult for the wealthy to climb.

The poor young man might not be able to compete with the rich man in yacht buying, but he can compete in playing the guitar.

The rich man already has a yacht and doesn't need to be cool.

It is why cool is inherently unstable and antagonistic. The outsider continually innovates in coolness to differentiate himself from his more established competitors. The more established, wealthier competitors use their advantages to attempt to co-opt the outsider's coolness. The cycle continues.

It is also why cool is contextual. The white English teacher is a loser in America, and cool in Seoul, precisely because attractive young women prefer him in one context, and not in the other.

The Jersey roid-monster might not be cool to you, but in his context he is cool and you are not. If slender young women flocked to a broke HVAC repairman and shunned the skateboarder, the HVAC repairman would then be cool and the skateboarder would not be.

What made 90s fashion cool in the 90s, while wearing the exact clothing today is deeply uncool? Attractive women preferred it in the 90s, and do not prefer it now.

Starcraft players are cool in Korea. Here, not so much. You can figure out why.

Same reason why a style of music might be cool in one time and place, and deeply uncool in another time and place.

If you'd like it quantified:

X is cool in context C iff attractive women prefer X-adopters over wealthier competitors.

The coolness of X in context C is the average additional wealth required to compete with an X-adopter.

but this doesn't answer the question, even in the cases where it is right. it's only one step removed from "things that are cool are cool"

I don't know whether sam is "right" - surely not, surely it's more complex especially around the edges (e.g. how can a woman be cool?). But as a 20 word (or so), and thus inevitably oversimplified, theory about "cool" it's one of the more thought-provocating things I've read here in a long time. I'll never hear the word "cool" again without testing it against this theory.

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I think this definition is largely on the right track, but I think it definitely needs to be extended to women. As I see it, the most desirable quality of women for most men is not wealth, but physical youth and beauty.

If a woman is attractive for reasons other than those, I find that it tends to be due to cuteness (which I think is behavior that somewhat simulates youth), interest in things typically only men find interesting (e.g., nerdy girls or female econ majors), or coolness.

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Birth rate has issues as a measure of cool. Memphis has the highest infant mortality rate to go with its high birth rate.

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I'm pretty sure that trying to quantify coolness is one of the most reliable signs you are not cool. You are supposed to know it when you see it.

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Quantifying coolness is definitely the least cool thing you can do. Unless you're Nate Silver, then it's cool.

Good point. He is the exception that proves the rule. He just might have the skills to do the calculation and get it right.

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While the idea that cool is what attractive young women are attracted too is compelling, it has the problem of precluding cool in male exclusive situations.

I think back to my own experiences in the Navy, a time before women were permitted on boats, and I can specifically identify those individuals within my division who were cool, those who were decidedly not cool, and then all of the others. Some attributes that make for cool in a mixed social setting, such as playing the guitar, were also cool on the boat. But there were other measures of cool; positional power was ranked and a given, but political savvy and the ability to relate to others up and down the ranking structure was a high indicator of cool. So too were competent job skills: one could never be cool without having first proved oneself competent in one’s rating; a minimum requirement, if not an actual factor.

So I wonder, is there cool in the gay community? In prison?

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So I'm going with my producer surplus argument. Cool is what others desire and are willing to pay way above the marginal cost of production for.

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And without stating is in limited supply, or has network demand effects.

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How much overlap is there between coolness and chillness? I like to befriend chill bros, and many of them seem pretty cool too.

Chill is on the way to cool.

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Chill is pretty heavily loaded on low neuroticism. Cool is heavily loaded on low neuroticism, high openness, and high extraversion. So chill's like a sub-component of cool. Hunter S Thompson was definitely cool, but pretty far away from chill

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After reading all opinions on the definition of cool, I have decided that Berlin is the coolest place on earth

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This is what's wrong with economists. You can't quantify cool, you can't model it, in fact you can't even define it. It's one of the things that is out if the reach of economics and always will be.

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Cool is defined as the place where I make enough money and have enough time to productively meet the high concentration of attractive women around me. Money. Time. Women. Period. But I'm a guy. So sue me.

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This entire conversation is mortifying.

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As soon as you figure out what cool is, it isn't cool anymore.

Any quantifiable measure of coolness will be destroyed simply by quantifying it.

As Grandpa Simpson said, "I used to be cool. Then they changed what cool was."

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Right

Compare a Hummer H1 (cool) with a Hummer (H2) (100% douchebag)

10 years ago a fully restored and restomoded Mustang was cool. Now it's cooler to have the bone stock survivor car, with the original paint job.

Running a marathon used to be cool, and now its something that Judy in HR does once or twice a year. So 'cool' pivots to ultramarthons, competitive cross-fit, or obstacle course races. But being that obsessed with something is lame.

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interesting

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Delete

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Contra many other comments, we need more posts like this. Like another poster said, there's a little Tyrone here, who has completely disappeared. Would like to see Sumner and Hanson blog on cool.

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While it's interesting to wonder about what other people think about the matter, and so no judgment on any comments, I think trying to be cool is one of the most uncool things ever.

Being yourself and pursuing whatever quirky and stupid or geekish or who cares what interests you might have ... is cool, imo.

OK, I hope never to wonder about what is cool again.

Just forget about Nike and do it.

Oh yeah, and I totally agree with John Smith. Montreal is cool. But it's too cool for me :)

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