30 days of ideas – 12: A Box of Cool
Cool? It’s absolutely icebox – Photo by gari.baldi
As a piece of marketing discourse, the word ‘cool’ has come to mean different things over the years. Today, if you look for websites by searching on the word ‘cool’, then what you’ll typically find is more accurately described as humour. Visual gags, videos of people falling down, and viral gags you can send to your friends.
Whereas, by ‘cool’ I’m referring to its original colloquial usage – particularly by beatniks and New York intellectuals. It’s an urbane aesthetic, an attitude and an approach to life that is at once detached and engaged. It’s smart, politically active, exploratory, self-composed, improvisational, unhurried, interested in expanded horizons, and emphasises an appreciation of both quality and authenticity – as indefinable as those things may be.
Of course, the problem with cool, is that it leads people to try and endlessly sort ‘cool’ from ‘not cool’ or get involved in whether one thing is ‘cooler’ than another. We could argue all day and night about what’s cool and isn’t or just how cool something might be, but there are some things that are (I would assert) just objectively and categorically cool.
And it’s those things that I’m interested in here.
So what’s a Box of Cool?
My idea is for a subscription-based, home-delivered regular package – let’s say monthly, for the sake of argument – full of things that are undeniably ‘cool’.
Typical contents might include an issue of a high quality print magazine that you may not have come across before (Bearded Magazine springs to mind here); a 180g vinyl reissue of an underappreciated recording like Leroy Vinnegar’s Glass of Water; a DVD of a film you probably haven’t seen, but should – like Alan Arkin’s Little Murders; an undeniably cool book like Kerouac’s The Dharma Bums; a single, commissioned long-form essay by a contemporary cultural commentator; perhaps a miniature taster bottle of a single malt scotch… I don’t know. Stuff like that, I guess.
However, the trick to it being actually cool – rather than merely marketing cool is to have a different guest editor every month. Someone smart, interesting and culturally curious, who epitomises some element of cool – and not in a GQ suit-wearing, cigar-smoking sort of way – but in an ‘in-touch with the zeitgeist – but aware of far more interesting stuff’ sort of way.
Following a few simple guidelines, the guest editor could curate what goes in the box this month. I can think of a few names I’d pick, but that’s not my role here. I’m just putting the idea out there.
People buy things that are cool
One of my motivations for suggesting an idea like this is in reaction to the record industry’s constant griping about losing money due to downloading. There was an article just this morning about EMI’s rising debt, which wondered aloud whether Katy Perry could save the company.
And I think that misunderstands consumer culture in an age of both digital and physical products. Music recordings themselves – particularly mass-produced pop music recordings – are pretty much medium-agnostic, which is to say that a download of Katy Perry is easily as good as a CD of Katy Perry for my purposes.
But tangible things, when they’re really desirable things, can’t be substituted online.
I can read an article on the web, and that’s easily as good (better, actually) than a print newspaper. But not nearly as good as a gorgeous, well-designed, high-quality print magazine.
I’ll buy a CD (and I’m in one of the few remaining demographics that will), but only if you’ll pay attention to the whole product. Make it a desirable object to own. Make it cool. There’s a reason that box sets are on the rise while mass-market CDs in crappy plastic jewel cases are on the decline – and it’s not because of theft.
It’s because the digital age favours good product design and desirable objects. Popular is not as good as cool anymore.
What price cool?
You’d probably be looking at something like £30-40 a month, but the contents would be so desirable, so well-packaged and with such a real attention to detail, you’d find that people would be so overwhelmed by the quality that the price would be a small one to pay for something so, well… cool.
Every instalment should be different. The project should be an international one. Every element should be fascinating. Every item should be a talking point. It’d be niche, perhaps – but a significant niche.
And, of course, the companion website has the opportunity to open up more about each of the ideas, cultural artefacts and experiences contained within the box.
You should start this. I’d buy it. It’d be cool.
Table of contents for 30 Days of Ideas
- The other way of following first
- Now we’re up and dancing
- 30 days of ideas – 01: Keymash
- 30 days of ideas – 02: Radio Alerts
- 30 days of ideas – 03: Only Famous (a romantic comedy)
- 30 days of ideas – 04: Modcasts
- 30 days of ideas – 05: Numberless Calendar
- 30 days of ideas – 06: SpringCleanr
- 30 days of ideas – 07: Street Gallery
- 30 days of ideas – 08: Smart Business Cards
- 30 days of ideas – 09: Recordings in Concert
- 30 days of ideas – 10: Vinyl scanner
- 30 days of ideas – 11: Photo Stack-and-Scan
- 30 days of ideas – 12: A Box of Cool
- 30 days of ideas – 13: Karaoke-Tube Celebstar Idol
- 30 days of ideas – 14: I Made You A Tape
- 30 days of ideas – 15: Newspaper download codes
- 30 days of ideas – 16: Pebble Splash
- 30 days of ideas – 17: Digital radio, somewhere useful
- 30 days of ideas – 18: Public domain music collection
- 30 days of ideas – 19: Blog cast-list automator
- 30 days of ideas – 20: The Retirement Pile
- 30 days of ideas – 21: Nationalise EMI
- 30 days of ideas – 22: The Stainless Steel Rat (the movie)
- 30 days of ideas – 23: WordPress Bandcampify template
- 30 days of ideas – 24: Rollercoasters as public transport
- 30 days of ideas – 25: Next-gen personalised music radio
- 30 days of ideas – 26: New Music Trust
- 30 days of ideas – 27: Tamagotchi Gardening
- 30 days of ideas – 28: Charity shop clothing subscription
- 30 days of ideas – 29: ‘Now Playing’ social music app
- 30 days of ideas – 30: House of Spare Ideas
- Mixtape for You by Ray Kuyvenhoven
- What can you do in 30 days?