Whether we’ll admit it or not, we all want to be “cool.” Not just cool in the sense that we are popular, or cool in the sense that we are loved. But cool in the sense that we are respected. Deep down, we are all attention seeking children, perpetually in pursuit of others’ approval, desperately wanting to be cool. It is a desire that is universal, albeit more obvious in some people than in others. What isn’t universal, however, is what primarily makes us cool.
There are variables that universally earn cool points. Money, physical attractiveness, or status are some examples. But the weight given to each variable depends very much on where we live, and the values that govern our culture. While that may sound obvious, what perhaps is not so obvious is the granular level at which perspectives on coolness diverge. I’ve noticed that the difference is not just by country, but also by city.
In New York City, the quintessential symbol of the “American Dream,” the number 1 driver of coolness is money. Whether you worked on Wall Street, became a real estate mogul, or built a multi-million dollar fashion brand doesn’t matter as much as whether you made a lot of dough doing so. In the city that boasts the highest number of millionaires in the United States, money talks.
Google Trends search for “money”
In Los Angeles, home of Hollywood and Beverly Hills, the primary coolness driver is physical attractiveness. Just like in any other city, money matters. But what perhaps matters more is whether you are hot or not. You could be a bartender at a local bar, making a modest salary. As long as you make it out to the gym and tan a few times a week, you can be cool too.
Google Trends search for “plastic surgery”
Google Trends search for “makeup”
In San Francisco, it is “what did you help build?” Did you sell your company to Google or Facebook for a billion dollars? Did you invest in a company that sold for a billion dollars? Please tell me that you at least did something amazing, like develop the jet propulsion systems for SpaceX! I repeat: money matters. But what perhaps matters more is whether you helped build something… and hopefully whether you built something meaningful. You could build one of the most influential websites in internet history and give it away for free, and you’d still be super cool. Jimmy Wales, the founder of Wikipedia, is cool in San Francisco.
In Tokyo, where I live, the primary driver of coolness is prestige. It is all about the brand names. Did you graduate from one of the top schools? Do you work for a big company? These are the things that matter most, and have the biggest influence over how people treat you. The situations where someone’s accomplishments were suddenly praised, only after his or her alma mater was revealed, never cease to amaze me.
You may disagree with what I claim matters most in each city. That is okay. This is purely based on my personal observations, and is by no means a scientific study. You could argue that fame is more important in Los Angeles because of Hollywood. Or that San Francisco masks their obsession with money in a “change the world” mantra. My main point is that each city tends to have their own beliefs about what is cool, and it is interesting to think about these differences as well as what matters most to most people in each city.
So, when it comes to being cool, what matters most in your city?