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The Laws of CoolKnowledge Work and the Culture of Information$
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Alan Liu

Print publication date: 2004

Print ISBN-13: 9780226486987

Published to Chicago Scholarship Online: February 2013

DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226487007.001.0001

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Preface “What's Cool?”

Preface “What's Cool?”

(p.176) Preface “What's Cool?”
The Laws of Cool

Alan Liu

University of Chicago Press

On one of the best known pages of its web site in 1996–1997, Netscape asked: “What's cool?” The answer offered on the page quickly passes over the “we” who do not yet know what cool is (“someday, we'll all agree on what's cool on the Net”) to install a “cool team” charged with generating an empirical definition of cool—a list of web sites. These are the sites, the team says (itself now appropriating the first-person plural), “that catch our eye, make us laugh, help us work, quench our thirst...you get the idea.” What is information cool? Structured as information designed to resist information, cool is the paradoxical “gesture” by which an ethos of the unknown struggles to arise in the midst of knowledge work. Just four themes of cool in the information age—each phrased as an assertion about the life of information, followed paradoxically by its contradiction—will provide an adequate dossier. Cool is, and is not, an ethos, style, feeling, and politics of information.

Keywords:   cool, Netscape, web sites, knowledge work, information age, ethos, style, feeling, politics

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