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)


The Truth and Irony about Solving a Rubik’s Cube

Somebody’s gotta be able to do it.  So I took it upon myself to become that person.

Last night at 11:15 PM, I solved my first Rubik’s Cube.  Then again, and again, again.  It all started on February 23rd when I was trying to think of a clever title for a post that I was working on about the true danger of dying of boredom and inactivity, which ended up with me questioning the small possibility that I could have a mild case of Aspergers (I’m pretty sure I don’t, though…).  I ended up naming the writing “Rubik’s Cube Syndrome”.


A few days later, on February 27th, I decided to take the concept literally: I went to Target and paid $9 for a Rubik’s Cube.  Because I realized I didn’t know anyone in my life that knew how to solve it, nor did I know anyone who knew anyone who knew how to solve it.  So I knew that meant that I would have to become that person.  I would have to become “that guy”.

For the next 11 days (which ended last night), I took “The Cube” with me everywhere.  The token running joke I kept hearing as I was learning to solve it was, “I can solve that thing for you, just let me take off the stickers…”

Everyday during my lunch break I walked over to Borders and used their free wi-fi to watch YouTube videos on how to solve it.  And, it worked.

The truth about solving a Rubik’s Cube is this:  Basically, trusting your own puzzle-solving abilities, you can not solve a Rubik’s cube.  It’s impossible.

The Cube is solved through completing a series of 7 layers, starting from the bottom up (like levels of an old school Nintendo game like Donkey Kong) and each one has a corresponding algorithm which is a set series of turns and twists (like the Konami code on Contra to get 30 extra lives or the combination of buttons pressed in order to pull of a “special move” on Streetfighter II).  But one wrong move, and you end up having to go back a few layers and start over.

The biggest hint that The Cube itself provides is that the middle squares of each side are the only ones locked into place, and each corner is predetermined.  For example, the green side will never share corners with the blue sides, because they’re on opposite sides from each other.

Interestingly, in theory, no matter what the positions are, it should never take more than 20 twists in order to return The Rubik’s cube to its original state.

The Rubix Cube has been frustrated millions of people since its commercial release 30 years ago in 1980.  Understandably.  Without memorizing the algorithms, it virtually is impossible.

So my advice is this.  Unless you’re willing to spend 11 days to memorize the exact formula, don’t waste your time.  It will be nothing but frustrating.  The Cube is either the most frustrating puzzle in the world or the most rewarding and therapeutic.  But if you don’t follow the formula step by step, you will not succeed.

The irony of being able to solve a Rubik’s cube is this: While you will most definitely be able to impress your friends when they watch you do it in front of them in just a matter of a few minutes, it takes memorizing algorithms to do it.  You must become a little bit dorky in order to become cool.

And I’m okay with that.  Because for a lifetime I have memorized the formula.  So for a lifetime, I will keep my mind active.  I called my Rubik’s Cube my “Alzheimer’s Prevention Device”.

The Politics of Making Friends

Sometimes a friend is just that not into you.  As for myself, I live by The Orange Cat Theory.

In 1985, when I began preschool at Mother’s Day Out at the First Methodist Church of Fort Payne, I was introduced to the concept of friendship.  For the first time in my life, really.  Because from ages 0 to 4 all I really knew was family.  But now that I had been dropped off with kids my own age, I began to grasp was a society was.  Within this group of people were even closer groups of people.  Called friends.

The catch phrase of 1985, the thing I heard the most at preschool was this:  “I’ll be your best friend…”  If a classmate of mine wanted one of my cookies, wanted to hold my stuffed animal, wanted to cut ahead of me in line, I heard:

“I’ll be your best friend…”

What went through my head as a 4 ½ year old was, “What if I don’t want you to be my best friend?”  Did my classmates not assume I already had a best friend?  Should my true best friend lose their status with me on account of a cookie?  Did I look like the kind of kid who was “best friend deprived”?

Was it not enough that Alex Igou and I played with our toy fire engine trucks together during “free time?  And that Simon Millazzo and I always sat next to each other everyday as we waited for our moms to pick us up?  And what about the fact that I went over to Russell McElhaney’s house and saw the GI Joe fort his brother made in the backyard and that his mom was the first to introduce me to a delicious dessert called the “brownie”?

The promise to be my best friend was being held over me as a bribe, but I had no interest in taking it.  And this, in 1985, was my introduction to friendship.  Twenty-five years later, I don’t have acquaintances offering their conditional friendship.  Because I know, just like I did as a 4 year-old, friendship shouldn’t have to be conditional.

Yet I still see some complication in adult friendships.  When the relationship is perfectly mutual, 50/50, that’s when things come easy.  But looking back on my lifetime of friendships, even starting around age 10, I can think of several friendships where it wasn’t a 50/50 deal.

I was always the one going to their house; they wouldn’t come to mine.  I was always the one to call them; they wouldn’t call me.  I was always the one to set up plans; they didn’t include me in their own.  I took the initiative in the friendship.  And I never questioned the authenticity of us being friends.  Because it’s in my nature to be the initiator, the one who calls first, the planner.

But by high school, I realized that I felt I was having to “earn” certain friendships.  That I was having to prove myself good enough, or even more illogically, that I was cool enough for them.

It all goes back to the summer of 1988 when my mom took my sister and I to this lady’s house to both choose a pet cat for ourselves.  We got out of our Bronco II and went into the friendly woman’s kitchen, where we saw a litter of kittens.

For some reason I was always drawn to the orange cats (probably had something to do with Morris the Cat).  So I wanted the orange cat in the litter.  I stretched my arm to him.  The orange cat seemed indifferent towards me.  While that was happening, my mom must have noticed the white and brown spotted cat fighting for my attention:  “Nick, pick the cat that comes to you on his own.”  So I walked away with that cat.  I named him Gabriel.  He liked me.

Most importantly, from that day I learned a valuable lesson about relationships:  Choose to be close to the people that show the most interest in you.  Because that’s a sign of a good friend.  Choosing my friends this way has definitely paid off.

And sure enough, the few times I did spend effort on recruiting an “orange cat” for a friend (applies to romantic interests as well) it never worked out.  My Orange Cat Theory has proven true in my own life.  When it all comes down to it, Morris the Cat isn’t as cool as he thinks he is.

The Orange Cat Theory:

As opposed to choosing a relationship based on your own preconceived notions about someone who seems really cool but causes you to reach out to them, instead look around first to see if someone is reaching out for you.  Choose “the cat that comes to you on their own”, not the orange cat.