Sunday, April 19, 2009

why is coolness proportional to number of participants

Have you noticed that American society can be very critical about people spending time alone? Let's consider Friday night activities. The societal "coolness" factor of pursuits is directly proportional to the number of people involved:

1. coding at home alone
2. watching a movie at home with a friend
3. going out to the movies with 5 friends
4. going out to a house party with 50 attendees
5. going to a nightclub packed with 400 people dancing

Many people would rank these as ascending in coolness, i.e. descending in lameness.

I imagine that evolution rewarded sociable people who worked with others to build grass huts and hunt buffalo together, and that turned into a societal bias toward social interaction. But you'd think the sweet spot would be interactions of small groups, rather than enormous gatherings that are inefficient.

This rule can be broken with the inclusion of romantic partners. Watching a movie with a date is considered more cool than going to a house party with 50 attendees. This is presumably because evolution also rewards procreation, thus any overtures in that direction are also blessed.

UPDATE: Another aspect of this contemplation is over why society expects people to be social on particular times of week, e.g. Friday and Saturday nights. It's fine to read the newspaper alone on Saturday morning, but much less acceptable to do that on Saturday night.


Dan said...

I question your premise.

Going to Wal-Mart with hundreds of other shoppers is uncool. Going helicopter skiing in the Andes with two people is cool. Going to a bible study group with 15 other people is uncool. Having an all-night jam session with your band of 5 is cool.

It's an interesting question why some things are cooler than others, but the logic of cachet is not simply a matter of the number of people involved. In fact I don't think it's even correlated.

John K. Lin said...

Since when did you care about what other people think? From your blog, you come across as quite independent minded - and that is what I enjoy about your blog.

As an INFJ, I imagine you would prefer coding at home alone rather than being at a house party with 50 attendees or going to a nightclub packed with 400 people.

If you ever want to go on a Friday night date though, let me know :)

Wei said...

I think going to a club alone on friday night is lamer than coding at home :)

Niniane said...

#5 was supposed to imply that you would go to the club with other friends.

Tim said...

I go to a bible study group at my home with about 15 other people on Sunday nights. I think it is cool that we get together to talk about what really matters. I invite you and Dan, anytime, to join us.

sanjuro said...

Cool and uncool according to who, hmm? If it's cool for you, it should be cool with everyone, whose concern is it how socially fit your ways of entertaining are? See, for instance, that "bible study group", I think it goes through the roof in the Uncool Chart but as long as they don't do some annoying proselytizing (wait, did he just do that?) that's of no consequence.

Sylvain said...

And why do we have to decide on doing something before we can meet as a group, like going to movies, restaurants, clubs, bars? I enjoy the group and conversing with friends but these places make it hard to communicate. It was even more obvious when I lived in the Bay Area where the locals apparently don't 'hang out'. Of course The Onion has the explanation:

Anonymous said...

The person coding in front of the computer is probably going to end the night at various websites, pretending to procreate.

randell said...

Hey, #1 is cool. Well, relatively. And romantic != cool.

bene said...

I'd expect a much stronger correlation between "cool" and "exclusive" - as in, that cool is linked to the active exclusion of others.

But then, depends on your definition of cool.

Personally? The concept of cool is the supporting infrastructure for cliques (or maybe the other way around), a way of establishing a group that will work well together due to common traits.

Anonymous said...

A conscious or subconscious need for approval or validation? The more "friends" I have, the more approved I feel. Projecting it out, folks who have more friends seem cooler.

Dan's point about some events being uncool with larger participants sounds reasonable. Maybe your original question about American society being critical of *people* spending time alone is somewhat tangential to how you are illustrating it?

This may sound sexist, but women seem to have stronger social needs.

The reason friends is in quotes earlier, is because a lot of folks don't seem to understand what it means to be friends (at least from my perspective). Hanging out and catching a movie sometimes is not friendship. :-)

Anonymous said...

N, what's wrong with coding at night alone on Friday night -.-" ?

I'm Always Laughing said...

i love your blog...

in your definition that you have given, my preference would tend to be toward descending cool-ness. I like being alone or in small groups of friends. Its large groups that I tend to avoid when there is an option. However, we do live in society that really values extroversion and quantity of relationships often is more important than quality..

Arael said...

I doubt that this 'coolness' has anything to do with evolution, if it's mostly an "American" concept. I think you can't even translate it to most languages (transliteration doesn't count here).