Everyone wants to be cool, but no one wants to admit it. In spite of that, since the beginning of the internet, people have been formulating an ever-evolving script for achieving coolness. It’s confusing and often contradictory.
The word “cool” is both loaded and empty, so in this case let’s be clear that we’re talking about Internet Cool. You know, the folks who have the most followers, get the most likes, whose 140-character missives just seem to matter more somehow.
Internet Cool comes with a familiar set of instructions: Care, just don’t care too much. Joke, but don’t joke all the time. Be earnest, but not too earnest. Do this on Twitter. Don’t do this on Facebook. Foursquare is lame. Foursquare is not lame! Don’t post pictures of your food on Instagram. (No, Foursquare is definitely lame.) Can you even keep track of every piece of digital etiquette on a daily basis? Should you even want to?
Sure, there are the internet golden boys and girls who abide by these ceremonial formulae and tropes — especially on Twitter — and they make out famously. The story of weird Twitter is evidence enough that there is a paint by numbers way to do it. You should Tweet Like This to be popular. But everything those guys are doing started as the opposite of what everyone else was doing.
The truth is, no one is cool. It’s what makes the internet the nuanced, strange place it’s come to be. And that’s the beauty of it.
But we often act like there’s a different set of commandments for how to interact with people online than there is in real life. That’s simply not true, but we’re so obsessed with a get-cool-quick plan that there are Wikihow entries detailing how to make internet people like you. Clearly, the fact that someone felt compelled to write an entire 10-step process for how to achieve internet coolness really undermines the entire concept of coolness. But there is some irony, then, that jokes aside, it distills down to as good a point as any on the subject: Know the room, know what you’re talking about, and don’t be a weirdo.
The same rules apply online as in the physical world: pay attention to social cues, listen to others’ ideas, learn from each other, take a break when you need a break, and ultimately that sappy directive that’s been purred to us since kindergarten rings true: just be yourself.
Online anonymity comes with the opportunity to build an internet persona, a whole new you. That is something that’s built while you’re sitting in front of a computer or staring into a phone for hours on end, alone. But that doesn’t mean you exist in a vacuum. Talking about coolness is is all very trite, and yes, it’s sad that we have to remind ourselves that none of it matters. But a guide on How To Live an Online Life is formulaic. That’s just so boring.
So embrace it. You’re uncool. Not in the ironic sense that you’re so painfully uncool that you’re actually somehow cool. But you are inherently uncool with weird interests and habits and manners of saying things and socially awkward ways of interacting with other people. And that’s just fine. In fact, it’s what makes the internet great.
Picture: Shutterstock/Javier Brosch
User Manual is Gizmodo’s guide to etiquette.