Sunday, November 21, 2010

Fear of Cool

Back in the early 70’s, I worked for an electronics company that employed some genuine eggheads. This is a class of people I respect, and whose company I enjoy, but I have never been a qualified member. In the R&D lab of this company, the engineers were working with a new tool – it was a box about the size of two shoeboxes, with a series of lights and toggle switches on the front panel. It was an Altair 8080, the first true minicomputer. There was no monitor, no keyboard, no mouse. It had to be programmed manually, by flipping the toggle switches to define the instructions, one tedious byte at a time.


For reasons I cannot explain, I thought it was cool. I didn’t have a science background, I wasn’t an engineer, and I have always hated math. A few years later, the company wanted to sell the Altair, and I almost bought it. But in 1980, I bought this thing instead – a Sinclair ZX80:


It had one kilobyte of RAM, an awkwardly tiny membrane keypad (I’ve placed a quarter on the case as an indicator of size), and you had to hook it up to a black-and-white TV set which functioned as the monitor. If you wrote a program, you had to store it on a cassette tape player. It wasn’t properly grounded, so every time I touched it after walking across the carpet, it would get zapped by the static discharge and reset. I loved it.

A few years ago, BMW bought the British company that made the Mini Cooper and introduced it to the American market. It was a squat, boxy little car that had about as much curb appeal as a motor scooter. A guy I know who has a normal supply of testosterone confused me when he told me that he thought they were cool.


I now realize that the concept of coolness is irrational and totally subjective. Throughout my life, I’ve met numerous people with irrational fears. One woman I know used to be an Israeli tank commander, but she will run screaming if she sees a snake. It seems that desire and fear are somehow related, and dwell comfortably in the irrational zone of our limbic system.

This would explain a lot of things, actually. For example, it would help to explain why some women date abusive men. Or why some men engage in risky, thrill-seeking activities.

But now that I understand this strange relationship, I’ve developed a new fear: The fear of the next thing that I think is cool.

1 comment:

Bruce said...

is that a coffee stain on the top of the sinclair?

i am thinking that there are better places to store your cup most likely filled with your
"stolen coffee"!!