Breaking The Cool Barrier

As a final project in one of my English classes this semester, I’ll be constructing a digital map of The Dominican Republic that blends the country’s history with the rich fantasy references in Junot Diaz’s The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao. My little brother will be no doubt be doing something related to statistics that’s equally interesting, but at first glance there will be an distinct difference between our work. Mine will be an elaborately rendered map, dotted with fantastical images and containing videos and images culled from franchises as diverse as The Lord of The Rings, Star Wars, and Marvel Comics. His will likely be a wall of text interspersed with technical graphs. This is not to say that mine will be any more interesting, engaging or “cool” than his, but it will almost definitely appear so. 

This is illustrative of something I’ve started calling “the cool barrier,” which will probably come as no surprise to anyone: for someone to engage anything, it must trigger their interest, must make them say “well that’s cool.” Of course, this also extends far beyond academic projects, and can have impacts on things as important to our lives as what careers we gravitate toward. The "cool factor," especially when it comes to which jobs present their best aspects most easily to the camera or are culturally presented as cool, likely has a hand in why, when asked what they wanted to be when they grew up, a study found that children are most likely to respond that they imagine themselves as a doctor or professional athlete.

In spite of this, though, those things which appear less than cool at first glance can in fact be just as interesting or even more so than those which are more aggressively so. After all, a statistics projects could discuss matters as interesting as racial bias in policing, how our given names affect the jobs we take, or how countries react to civil uprisings in neighboring states. One of my suitemates has been doing research for years that, on the face of it, has a complicated technical description that could put anyone to sleep, involving the names of various enzymes and chemical processes. However, what that project is actually doing is finding methods and tools to better treat cancer, a deeply interesting process. The boring at first glance, in other words, can be electrifying upon closer inspection.

This, of course, doesn’t apply only to scholarly works or personal projects. It’s true for just about everything, from places to jobs to other people. No matter what we do, no matter who we are, theres’s something deeply interesting, indisputably cool, about all of us. Whether that something is evident for the whole world to see, as it is for art projects or professional athletes, or more hidden away, as for statistics projects or financial planners, it exists. There’s no such thing as boring, not in the beautifully deep creatures we are and the myriad things we do. There’s only more to discover. 

With excitement and optimism,

Alex