Hot vs. Cool

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In Marshall McLuhan’s pioneering 1964 study, Understanding Media, the Canadian philosopher, literary critic, and communication theorist argued that “hot” media don’t require much work on our part when it comes to determining meaning; “cool” media, however, require us to participate more consciously in that effort. “Hot” media are more sequential, linear, and logical than “cool” media, which require us to be a little/lot more creative when it comes to “connecting the dots,” i.e., into constellations.

What if we coded each story from Significant Objects v1 as tending to be “hot” or “cool”? (I say “tending to be be,” because McLuhan was careful to note that “hot” and “cool” are not dichotomous terms, in his analysis; instead, they exist on a continuum.) In other words, might we discover that “hot” stories made an object more significant than “cool” ones, or vice versa? And what if we also factored in the object/story categories we’ve identified — i.e., is a “hot fossil” more or less significant than a “cool” one? I’m sure you’ve wondered precisely the same thing, readers.

Well, wonder no longer! After the jump, you’ll find our brand-new “hot”/”cool” table. We’ve linked to a few of the stories, so you can get a sense of which ones we considered “hot” or “cool.” In short, if the reader is informed more or less straight out what the object’s significance is, then the story is “hot.” If the reader is required to participate consciously in determining the object’s significance, then the story is “cool.” (NB: A close description of an object’s function, appearance, or history isn’t necessarily a “hot” narrative; a “hot” narrative is one in which the meaning of the object, for the story’s protagonist or narrator, is explicitly stated.) As noted, “hot”/”cool” is a continuum; if you disagree with the way we’ve categorized the object/stories, please let us know.

Here’s the table. What do you think? Notice any obvious patterns in the data?

CategoryRank (adj.)ObjectHot/Cool
Talisman1Russian FigureCool
Talisman2Indian MaidenCool
Evidence3Wooden AnimalHot
Fossil4"Hawk" AshtrayHot
Totem5Pink HorseHot
Talisman6Metal BootCool
Fossil8Cape Cod ShoeHot
Fossil9Duck TrayHot
Talisman10Wooden MalletCool
Evidence11Fish SpoonsCool
Evidence12Fake BananaCool
Fossil13Cow VaseCool
Totem13Missouri ShotglassHot
Talisman15Kneeling Man FigurineHot
Talisman16Rhino FigurineCool
Evidence17Rainbow Sand AnimalCool
Fossil18Meat ThermometerCool
Fossil20Felt MouseHot
Totem21Bird FigurineCool
Evidence22Ziggy HeartCool
Evidence23Geisha BobbleheadCool
Evidence23BBQ Sauce JarCool
Totem25Ireland Cow PlateHot
Fossil26Necking Team ButtonHot
Fossil27Rope/Wood Monkey FigurineHot
Fossil28Rooster Oven MittHot
Fossil29Motel Room KeyCool
Evidence30Jar of MarblesCool
Fossil31Smiling MugCool
Evidence32Marines (Upside-Down) Logo MugCool
Fossil33Maine Statutes DishCool
Fossil33Halston MugCool
Fossil35Seahorse LighterHot
Talisman36Hand-Held Bubble BlowerCool
Evidence36Creamer CowCool
Talisman36JFK BustCool
Evidence39Mr. Pickwick Coat HookCool
Fossil39Round BoxHot
Fossil41Amoco Yo-YoHot
Talisman42Miniature BottleCool
Fossil42Penguin CreamerHot
Evidence44Cigarette CaseCool
Totem45Chili Cat FigurineHot
Fossil46Alien ToyHot
Evidence47Ocean Scene GlobeCool
Evidence49Crumb SweeperCool
Talisman50Praying HandsCool
Fossil50Elvis Chocolate TinHot
Evidence52Sanka AshtrayCool
Talisman53Tin ArkHot
Evidence54Windsurfing Trophy/StatueCool
Fossil55Pabst Bottle OpenerCool
Fossil56Spotted Dogs FigurineHot
Evidence56Santa NutcrackerCool
Fossil58Foppish FigurineHot
Evidence59Kitty SaucerCool
Totem60Piggy BankCool
Totem60Mule FigurineCool
Talisman62Troll NutcrackerCool
Fossil62Grain ThingHot
Talisman64Dome DollCool
Fossil65Popsicle-Stick ConstructionHot
Evidence65Golf Ball BankCool
Evidence67Blue VaseCool
Talisman68Candyland Labyrinth GameCool
Fossil68Pen StandHot
Evidence68Military FigureCool
Talisman71Dilbert Stress ToyHot
Fossil72Uncola GlassHot
Evidence72Choirboy FigurineCool
Evidence74Star of David PlateCool
Fossil75Lighter Shaped Like Small Pool BallCool
Fossil76Cracker Barrel OrnamentHot
Fossil76Sea Captain Pipe RestHot
Totem76"Hakuna Matata" FigurineHot
Talisman76Ornamental SphereCool
Fossil81Cat MugHot
Talisman82Wave BoxCool
Talisman83Toy ToasterHot
Talisman84Flip-Flop FrameHot
Evidence85Thai HooksCool
Fossil85Small StaplerHot
Talisman87Duck VaseCool
Fossil88Fred Flintstone Pez DispenserHot
Evidence89Basketball TrophyCool
Talisman90Toy Hot DogHot
Evidence91Umbrella TrinketCool
Evidence92Toothbrush HolderCool
Fossil93Coconut CupHot
Fossil94Swiss MedalHot
Fossil95#1 Mom HooksHot
Talisman96Clown FigurineCool
Evidence97Kentucky DishCool
Fossil98Porcelain ScooterHot
Fossil99Hawaiian UtensilsHot
Evidence100Bar Mitzvah BookendsCool


Joshua Glenn is an editor, publisher, and a freelance writer and semiologist. He does business as KING MIXER, LLC. He's cofounder of the websites HiLobrow, Significant Objects, and Semionaut; and cofounder of HiLoBooks, which will reissue six Radium Age sci fi novels in 2012. In 2011, he produced and co-designed the iPhone app KER-PUNCH. He's coauthored and co-edited Taking Things Seriously, The Idler's Glossary, The Wage Slave's Glossary, the story collection Significant Objects (forthcoming from Fantagraphics), and Unbored, a kids' field guide to life forthcoming from Bloomsbury. In the '00s, Glenn was an associate editor and columnist at the Boston Globe's IDEAS section; he also started the IDEAS blog Brainiac. He has written for Slate, n+1, Cabinet, io9, The Baffler, Feed, and The Idler. In the '90s, Glenn published the seminal intellectual zine Hermenaut; served as editorial director and co-producer of the pioneering DIY and online social networking website; and was an editor at the magazine Utne Reader. Glenn manages the Hermenautic Circle, a secretive online community. He was born and raised in Boston, where he lives with his wife and sons. Click here for more info.

2 thoughts on “Hot vs. Cool

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