What Makes a Person “Cool”? (Being Subtle, Aware of Social Cues, and Having Something Exclusive)

I asked dozens of people in real life and on facebook in order to find the answer.

There are some things in life we recognize and encounter everyday, yet we don’t understand them.  For example, questions I constantly ask myself as I am writing each day are “is this funny?” and more importantly “is this interesting?” Both humor and being able to captivate a person’s attention are not really cut-and-dry, black-and-white issues, though I am definitely a cut-and-dry, black-and-white person.  It takes being very observant of social cues and even pop culture, at least in my experience, to make it work.  The difficulty and creativity in the search to be both funny and interesting is that both of those things are abstract, moving targets.

I am so overaware (it’s a made-up word but if I keep using it I think I can get it to catch on) and intrigued by marketing tools and methods.  For example, from now on, anytime you see an ad for a clock (not digital) or even just a new clock for sale in a store, you will be amazed at how many of the clocks show “10:10” as the time.  My guess is that “10:10” easily shows both arms of the clock and also it’s a time that many people are awake for both times each day, both morning and night.

Another interesting observation is how many African-American models wear purple in magazine ads and commercials on TV.  From JC Penny catalogs to The Princess and the Frog, purple is present.  Notice how few people of all other races were purple in ads.  I’m sure it’s because the color purple compliments darker skin tones much better than it does for lighter ones, and because purple is a color of royalty, which is a common theme in African-American culture- like the way bishops are often common in African-American churches.  And it may be stretching this concept, but the Disney movie The Lion King takes place in Africa, and as the title explains, it is a movie about a kingdom, even though it’s about animals instead of humans.

So keeping all these things in mind, I started thinking about an important and invisible factor in selling a product: being cool.  Apple computers are definitely cool, as is Steve Jobs who started and runs the company.  Is it because of those TV ads starring Justin Long, portraying PC’s as nerdy and Mac’s as hip?  I don’t think so.  Those ads just cleverly symbolized what many clued-in consumers were already aware of: Mac’s are cooler than PC’s.

Apple has always made their own rules, not being limited to the guidelines and expectations of other computer programs or even customers.  But they get away with it because Apple basically writes The Book of Cool when it comes to media technology: User-friendly computers that don’t really get viruses, iPods, iPhones, and iPads, all of which use a minimal number of buttons, and are so cool they don’t easily interact with other Apple products.

This being said, “coolness” is important in selling a product.  And that’s why marketing departments exist- to try and figure out, or at least convince people what is cool, so the product can be sold.  But the art of being cool doesn’t just apply to big companies and marketing teams, it also matters to us as individuals.  People are often drawn to other people who they think are cool; therefore being cool yourself may in turn attract other cool people.  I mean, some people are fine with regularly attending Star Wars conventions or sharing a house with 8 cats all named after cupcake flavors.  But just as that “uncool” example shows, even if we truly don’t care what other people think about us, being cool is definitely better than being uncool, if given the choice.

So what makes a person “cool”?  I’ve asked dozens of people both in real life and on facebook to find out the answer.  There were mainly just a few different answers, some being gender specific, some not:  Some males answered “money and material possessions” while some females answered “appearance and clothing”.  But the most reoccurring answer I received was “being confident to the point that the person truly doesn’t care about what other people think or say about them”.  Another similar answer that resonated well with me was “a cool person has something you don’t, even if it’s just confidence”.

Interestingly, the age of the people I asked made no difference to the kind of answer I got.  Not only do older people think that “confidence” defines being cool, but I also realized that being young isn’t a requirement in order to be cool.  I can think of three musicians who I’ve listened to my entire life who are still making music and for whom I’m still buying their albums and happen to all be currently right around 60 years old: Bruce Springsteen, Tom Petty, and Phil Collins. Age has nothing to do with being cool.  If anything, being young is a major disadvantage in being cool, since life experience is lacking.  Most teenagers only think they know what is cool, but many of them are trying so hard to be cool that they are not- which brings me to the first Rule of Being Cool.

The Rules of Being Cool

1) If you realize or acknowledge that you are cool, you either never were cool or are now no longer cool. Like John Mayer.  I will always love his music, but I refuse to think he’s cool anymore.  By the time he publicly started dating celebrities then disrespecting them later in magazines while making an arse of himself with prideful comments and talking about how much money he makes, it became official: John Mayer is aware that he’s cool, which officially disqualifies him for being cool.  I can’t totally discredit the guy, after all, he did pen the song “83” (I’ve been obsessed with the year 1983, since 1995) and it was one of his concerts that transformed a friendship into a dating relationship into a marriage into a family (the first date my wife and I went on was a John Mayer concert).  But John Mayer is officially disqualified from being cool.

2) You must be aware of social cues, but not become ruled by the expectations of other people. Obviously if a person doesn’t care whatsoever what people think, he could be rude, selfish, and only shower once a week.  But it takes more than not caring what people think and participating in personal hygiene, it takes being aware of the social expectations that actually matter: Like being friendly, positive, and simply passionate about things that are important, while not being self-centered, vain, or overly aggressive. Why?  Because a person who has these attributes I just listed in italics is a confident person.  When I meet a person who is constantly being negative and is generally condescending to others, I see a person who is unhappy, unfulfilled and desperate to find confidence; needless to say, that’s not a cool person.

3) You must have something that others inspire to have. Whether it’s wit, aggressiveness, style, a high income level, or personal character, just to name a few examples, we use other people as models for our lives.  Yes, being cool depends on who you ask, since it’s largely based on perception.  Yet still, confidence can always be found as the foundation of coolness.

And that’s it.  That’s how I define what makes a person cool.  From Zack Morris in the fictional world, to my own family and friends in the real world, I am blessed to know cool people.  Just as iron sharpens iron, so do cool people enhance each other’s coolness. Therefore, be cool to one another.


Unnecessary Bonus…

Ethnic Backgrounds of Celebrities Mentioned in This Post:

Steve Jobs (half Syrian, half English)

Justin Long (half Polish, Sicilian, English)

Phil Collins (English, Irish)

Bruce Springsteen (50% Italian, 37% Irish, 13% Dutch)

Tom Petty (English, 1/4 Native American Indian)

Henry Winkler as “The Fonz” (Jewish)

John Mayer (half Jewish, half German)

Mark-Paul Gosselaar (half Indonesian, half Dutch)






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The Curious Case of Collecting

Collect them all… whiles supplies last!

The marketing teams working for our favorite kids’ cereals brands and fast food restaurants obviously had a good reason to promote collecting the whole series of toys they attached with the food they were selling: to increase profit. But what is strange is the way my actual response was often “sure, okay” or “I won’t make any promises, but I’ll try”. Because in the bottom drawer of my dresser at my parents’ house back in Alabama are several complete collections of plastic figurines.

A few months ago I gladly let a co-worker borrow my Dave Ramsey CD series on Financial Peace. Within a few weeks, she was no longer employed where I work. When I called her to say I’ll drive to her side of Nashville to get my CD’s back, she assured me that she will bring them to me when she’s finished with them. I waited two more months and called again- her phone is out of service.

The funny thing is, I don’t even need the CD’s. I’ve already listened to them and daily apply what I learned. At this point, I should consider them a gift that she needed more than I did. In fact, I didn’t even buy the CD’s myself. Someone gave them to me as a gift.

But they were MINE. And now she has them.

Why must I feel so compelled to want to possess things? Things I definitely don’t need. Things that aren’t even mine.

I am learning to convert this desire of collecting material items to collecting memories of new experiences instead. Collecting all the state quarters does me no good but travelling to random states like Rhode Island (which my wife and I did) stays with me. And I don’t even need a souvenir. As long as I have a memory, I’ll always remember when my wife and I got hot stone massages from two very strong hippie women in downtown Providence. And if one day my memory does fail me, I’ve got the pictures on facebook to remind me.

“There’s something missing in us, we long to make it whole. Though it never feels like it, I know you have it all.” -Pete Yorn (Social Development Dance)

Humble and Embarrassing Beginnings: Five Years of the Writings of Nick Shell

An autobiographic look at the Scenic Route Snapshots franchise.

Scenic Route Snapshots: Est. August 2005.

When people show you a picture of themselves from five or more years ago, the tendency is often to laugh at their longer/froey hair and outdated clothing and say, “That was you?” Because ultimately that younger, less experienced version of a person was more naïve and goofier than the version of that person we know today.  Of course, it’s no different for each of us.  We too have many laughable aspects about ourselves when we look back on them, five or more years later.

This month makes exactly five years that I’ve been writing online.  In August 2005 I was in the process of moving from Fort Payne, AL (having just graduated from Liberty University a few months before) to Nashville, TN to start my career in music (which I decided wasn’t what I really wanted to do, after a year of being here).  I starting writing MySpace blogs as a way to document new life pursuing a career in music.  It’s not that my writings were all horrible those first couple of years; looking back, I can actually see some jewels in the gravels.  But for the most part, they were pretty cheesy, not to mention they were all about me and “making my dreams a reality”.

Obviously it was those early years in particular that helped me realize ways to improve my writing, eventually giving birth to The Code.  That means my older writings consistently violated The Code and I’m sure that’s part of the main reason it’s so difficult for me to go back and read them.  But anyone who has ever been successful in any kind of enterprise surely endured the same sort of sloppy early years as well.

Yes, that generic version of what we know as good and relevant was probably not always good and relevant.  Like the episodes of Saved by the Bell with Miss Bliss or the Tracey Ullman version of The Simpsons or the British version of The Office.  Sure, hardcore fans will always approve, but the rest of us know to stay away, lest we become disappointed and somehow allow our idea of a pure thing to become tainted.

And the still, the irony of this whole concept will surely prove itself that much more five years from now, when I use this post as a point of reference to show the place in time where Scenic Route Snapshots really started taking off.  The point where 1,934 were my highest views in one day (happened this week) instead of that being a slow day.  The point where I could admit that humble beginnings were over for Scenic Route Snapshots, yet the big break had not happened yet.

What started in August of 2005 as a goofy blog that just a handful of my friends read has evolved into an actual website that currently receives around 1,000 hits per day.  I sure don’t know where the future of Scenic Route Snapshots is going, but as long as I can still claim to be a writer who never experiences writer’s block, the posts will keep being born.

Bonus!

Read my very first “blog” from August 16, 2005, entitled “I Choose to Be a Fatalist” at the bottom of the page at this link:

http://www.myspace.com/nickshell1983/blog?page=13

It was this 2005 version of me that laid the ground work to get me where I am today.

Finding Favor is Better than Being Lucky

Luck vs. destiny.

Here in Nashville, a phrase that pretty much instantly started annoying me the first time I heard it was “networking”.  “It’s all about networking”, say the people who claim to know how struggling musicians become stars.  And they’re right.  It’s all about who you know.  Of course talent and experience have something to do with it too. 

But it’s one thing to know the right people, and another to find favor with them.  To stand out and to be special in their eyes.  By doing a quick Google search of the phrase “found favor Bible”, it becomes pretty apparent that finding favor with the right person, or with God, dramatically altered a person’s life throughout Jewish and Christian history:

Joseph found favor with Potiphar.  Esther found favor with King Ahasuerus.  Daniel found favor with the Babylonian king.  Noah, David, and Mary found favor with God.  In all of these people’s lives, their careers as well as their social and spiritual roles would never the same (in a good way) after finding favor.

Therefore, a staple request in my daily prayers is to find favor with the right people(As well as for wisdom!)  While I do believe it’s important to pray specifically for my future life plans, I also am adamant on trusting God in all the unseen blessings, detours, and surprises that come packaged with them.  Because those unseen elements in life often carry the most weight, more so than the ones we plan or have any control over. 

Finding favor with people doesn’t necessarily mean being charming, suave, or slick.  I think back to a much underrated movie I admit I really like, despite the fact it’s technically a “chick flick” and it seems no one else has ever seen it: Little Black Book, starring Brittany Murphy and Holly Hunter.  A certain quote from this movie really sticks out in my mind and conveniently ties in to the current subject matter: “Luck is when preparation meets opportunity.” 

What others may see as luck, I choose to see as divinely ordained favor, where God appoints a person in our lives to grant a good opportunity.  That’s my version of luck. But of course, in all the Biblical cases where someone found favor with God or the right people, the favored person had already done their part to be qualified.  Noah was already a righteous man.  Mary was already a righteous woman.  Then God used them for great things. 

They may not have had the proper experience yet, but they had the right relationship with God and had paid their dues in the mundane stuff of life.  Then, it happened.  The Big Event began and they finally became active in the role they had prepared for their entire whole lives to fulfill.