Sunday, January 20, 2008

You have mad aloe.

You have mad aloe.

A few years ago I used to do a bit of freelance “coolhunting” for a company on the West Coast. Coolhunting is just a fancy way to say “trend reporting,” an activity that basically involved me writing emails about what was popular and cool in Boston. I would send them to my contact at this company, they would package them and select a few trends and then sell the information to people like MTV, Calvin Klein, Dreamworks etc.

The idea is that a few influential people are able to direct and determine what’s cool. Malcolm Gladwell talked about this concept at length in his book, “The Tipping Point.” I’d argue that I wasn’t exactly one of the coolest people in Boston at the time and instead got the gig as a result of my ability to string together a mildly interesting sentence, but that’s not why I’m telling you about my coolhunting days.

I learned approximately one thing during that year or so reporting on what was hot, and that is this: cool is fictional. It’s definitely contextual and subjective. I mean the German exchange student that wears motorcycle racing Puma sneakers kind of looks like he’s from the moon when he goes to high school in Georgia, but in Berlin he wouldn’t stand out. But I never really understood that cool was pretend until I made some up.

I was finishing a project on slang. The assignment was simple, report on the words that were going to be hot in the coming year. I had written a bunch down but felt like maybe I needed on more, one final word. But I couldn’t think of any, so I just made it up. I lied, something that before God, came very quickly too me. In some ways it still does, as I thought about naming this post, “Something I wrote for MTV.” I didn’t write it for MTV. I don’t even know if they bought my information about the word I made up but stretching the truth and lying about it was something that was a little tempting just now.

Anyway, here is what I did. I looked around my desk for inspiration and saw our aloe plant. I thought for a moment and then wrote about how in Boston, the new, cool word was “aloe.”

I wrote that “aloe was a way to describe a girl who was really fresh, and attractive.” I had to give an example sentence as well to go along with the definition. I had to use it in a sentence and show how other people were saying it. This is how I told them people most commonly used the word:

“That girl has mad aloe.”

I hit “send” on my email and forgot all about it. When you lie a lot you kind of lose the ability to remember which lies you’ve told.

A few days later, I got the weekly newsletter from the company. It’s a simple email that is sent to more than 10,000 of what the top trend reporting agency in the country, if not the world, believes are the coolest people around. The new slang they were most excited about in the coming year? Aloe.

The word they trumpeted as the coolest of all was the one I had made up. Aloe. Teens in Ohio and hipsters in Oregon and punk rockers in NYC were all told the same thing that day, aloe was it.

I regret that I lied. It was a foolish, immature thing to do. But, in that moment I learned that I didn’t need to chase cool, because it wasn’t real. Whether my t-shirt was ironic or my hair had the right product in it or I had the correct pair of headphones that indicated somewhere on my body was the right MP3 player, didn’t matter.

Cool is fictional. People like me make it up. And it’s not something worth worrying about.

This year, when you face the challenge of being cool, I hope you’ll remember how silly it all is and maybe even, that at the end of the day, you’ve got mad aloe.

1 comment:

robyn collins said...

you... have mad aloe! word to your mother!

really, though, i believe i will use this helpful piece of information in a preteen girl conference i'm developing right now... great reminder...