“Hot” and “cool”

The word “hot” is an interesting case study in social change. About 15 years ago Paris Hilton popularized “that’s hot” as a flirty catchphrase. “Hot” has since lost some of its playful connotation. Nowadays, you’ll the word used in a knowing, detached manner pursuant to brute ranking or self-assertion. Strange non-jokes like “hot girls for Bernie” can only be understood in this new style.

Rating relative attractiveness isn’t new, but nuance and mystery are dead in an era defined by instantly communicated photo and video. Around when Paris Hilton was saying “that’s hot,” Mark Zuckerberg started a “Hot or Not” rating site at Harvard. Eventually Zuckerberg bought Instagram (best understood as a clearing house for hotness) and the fun and flirty connoted “hot” was on thin ice.

“Cool” connoted relaxed street level confidence and/or unique aesthetic expression. But those things have lost their resonance and context as spontaneous social life, private identity and “place” have been undermined. In truth, there are still some consensus cool people but they are increasingly defensive.. which isn’t cool.

Instagram represents the death of “cool” and its replacement by “hot.” Instagram wasn’t really the cause of the switch-cool has died a long death-but it’s an incredible vantage from which to witness the transition. The people who used to judge what was “cool” now get by determining hotness. Because Instagram is the most aesthetic social media it disproportionately attracts the remaining cool people. But they are then forced to directly compete with the hottest people which isn’t fair.

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