IL2008 – Day 1 – The Spirit of Cool Hovers over the Waters

Attendees learn rapidly at IL conferences that the ranking system for presenters talking about their wares, widgets, and web sites has basically only three categories:

1. Cool
2. Really cool
3. Really, really cool

One of the presenters on free social videoware used all three categories, but as a social networker, she is not, cannot be, alone. Ergo, one supposes that the categories to avoid like the pox are tedious and lame, really tedious and lame, and the apex of annoyance: really, really tedious and lame.  The category one wants to find oneself under would be the splendid combinatorial realm of really, really cool and fun. Some antonyms to really, really cool and fun used at IL are: “so last year,” “web 1.0-ish,” and “traditional.”

Outsiders to the conference might have imagined librarians with copious vocabularies that would not depend on the repetition of an amorphous adverb such as “really.” However, that easy locution signals to everyone the point of many of the presentations at IL. The point is to be at the top of the heap.  That is the most cool location.

Outside the Portola Hotel in the Plaza

Outside the Portola Hotel in the Plaza

Steve Cohen, substituting for someone who could not present, proclaimed with glee that he always makes sure that he has more “friends” in Facebook than his wife.  Mary Ellen Bates established her really, really cool credentials by mentioning a search feature that allows her to determine “who is being blogged about the most,” and that is the person to whom she pays attention.  Greg Schwartz told his audience how proud he is that a recent Google search revealed that among the top five listings for “Greg Schwartz,” four had to do with the Greg Schwartz at IL, or what he called his “real persona,” though I believe that phrase qualifies as an oxymoron.

The impulse to attach the most value to what is at the top, to the person with the most friends, to the company with the biggest share of “x,” reinforces the ideology at play throughout IL.  Despite all the talk about social networking, establishing communities, enlarging the technological conversation, the driving forces involve agonistic, capitalistic models that value the person or thing that has emerged on top.  Egalitarian notions are neither cool, nor really cool.  In fact, for those who do not adopt the model at play throughout the conference, some social stigmatizing results.  For instance, at Steve Cohen’s session, initially advertised as, of course, “Best of Resource Shelf,” because no one would want anything other than the best, Mr. Cohen ended up in an ugly exchange with a woman who reacted out loud to Mr. Cohen’s assertion, “Attorneys are nice people.”  Among other things, Mr. Cohen works for lawyers. A microsecond after Mr. Cohen’s assertion about the character of all attorneys, a woman, who indicated she also worked for lawyers, shouted, “No they’re not.”  To negate anything the lively and deliberately fun Mr. Cohen offers constitutes uncoolness, and Mr. Cohen felt obliged to reassert his claim. The audience was spared an extended version of this dialogue:

SC: Attorneys are nice.
W: No they’re not.
SC: Yes they are.
W: No they’re not.
SC: Well, I think they are.
W: Well, I think you’re wrong.
SC: Well, I think your mother….

Had things ended there in a suspended state of equal disagreement, the exchange might not have been memorable. However, Mr. Cohen could not help himself, and enlarged his public dispute with the woman later by projecting both a slide of a job site for those looking for work at law firms in New York and an unwarranted conclusion from the woman’s negation of Mr. Cohen’s axiom that all attorneys are nice.  Mr. Cohen said that the web site for jobs at law firms would be useful for the woman who contradicted him, because she was, according to Mr. Cohen, clearly unhappy at her current workplace.  Many in the audience laughed.  I could not see in what spirit the woman took Mr. Cohen’s taunt, but Mr. Cohen came out on top. He had the microphone, the control of the technology, and the laughter.  Doubtless he slept last night in a state of coolness.

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