Laws of Cool is a study of the relation of the contemporary
humanities and arts to information culture, and of information
culture itself to the now dominant business paradigm of
"knowledge work." What crucial perspective on
knowledge do the humanities and arts still contribute when
the primary mission of knowledge is business? Reciprocally,
how do "knowledge work," "lifelong learning,"
"learning organizations," and so on offer critical
insight into the contemporary humanities? And finally, what
is the mediating role of information technology as both
the servant of the knowledge economy and the medium of the
new humanism and aesthetics of technological "cool"
(as it is so often called on the Web)?
Part I of the book is titled "The New Enlightenment"
(chapters on "'Unnice Work': Knowledge Work and the
Academy," and "The Idea of Knowledge Work").
Together with the Introduction ("Literature and Creative
Destruction"), this part establishes the frame of the
problem by surveying postindustrial business theory alongside
cultural-critical and poststructuralist understandings of
the humanities. The comparison demonstrates both a surprising
degree of overlap between recent views of business and the
humanities and a striking difference: where New Economy
business relies on a posthistorical thesis of innovation
(what economist Joseph Schumpeter called "creative
destruction"), humanities disciplines stress the primacy
of historical awareness (even if in revisionary forms).
Part II, which is titled "Ice Ages" (chapters
on "Automating," "Informating," and
"Networking"), offers a historical explanation
of twentieth-century U.S. "knowledge work," the
rise of information technology, and the correlative rise
of the subculture, counterculture, mass culture, and finally
techno-culture of "cool." Techno-cool is simultaneously
enthralled by the technical rituals and routines of information-age
production (itself descended from automation-age production)–and
willfully unproductive, un-routine, even rebellious. Contemporary
high-tech cool is thus a response to the dominating "corporate
culture" of social adjustment that began in Fredrick
Winslow Taylor's notion of managed "friendliness"
and continues in information-age "user-friendliness"
(as instanced in software usability and human factors research).
An important corollary of this argument is that it is not
consumer culture but instead "production culture"
(the culture of the workplace) that is now crucial in understanding
Part III on "The Laws of Cool" (chapters on
"What's Cool?", "The Ethos of Information,"
"Information Is Style," "The Feeling of Information,"
and "Cyber-Politics and Bad Attitude") focuses
on the present moment of technological and informational
cool. This part studies the formal, technical, social, and
political features of cool in the information age in order
to understand both its potential and its constraints as
a new popular humanism. High-tech cool is a mode of using
"information to resist information" that creates
not so much a subculture or counterculture as an "intraculture"
of cool within the corporate ethos.
Part IV is titled "Humanities and Arts in the Age
of Knowledge Work" (chapters on "The Tribe of
Cool," "Historicizing Cool: Humanities in the
Information Age," "Destructive Creativity: The
Arts in the Information Age," and "Speaking of
History: Toward an Alliance of New Humanities and New Arts").
This concluding part reflects critically on the role of
the humanities and arts in helping to shape the culture
of cool. A collaboration of the humanities and arts assisted
by information technology is now necessary to educate the
generations of cool by providing access to historical knowledges
that complement, offset, or contest the "creative destruction"
of knowledge work. This argument harvests the practical
experience of the author in creating The Voice of the Shuttle,
Transcriptions, and other large-scale educational information-technology
projects over the past decade. It also provides close readings
of artistic and literary works that demonstrate what a "future
literary" or "future aesthetics" might look
like in conjunction with new technologies.
The ultimate message of The Laws of Cool is that
"cool" may be the most authentic response of contemporary
culture to postindustrial knowledge work because it holds
open a reserve of counter- or anti-knowledge (an "ethos
of the unknown"), but nevertheless in its current form
cool is often also know-nothing, narrow, shallow, self-centered,
cruel, and coopted. Laws of Cool posits that the
task of the humanities and arts at the present time is to
educate the cool to use technology in a way that mediates
between knowledge work and a fuller lifework glimpsed in
historically other lives and works.
Laws of Cool draws on economic and business history,
sociology, anthropology, art and literary history, critical
and cultural-critical theory, history of information technology,
and Internet and new media theory. It balances between historical,
formal, and theoretical exposition. It extends the author's
practical and theoretical work in cultural history and cultural
criticism (e.g., his essays of the 1990's on New Historicism
and cultural criticism). While sharing an interest in "information
society" and "new media studies" with many
recent books, its intent is to ground these topics in a
broader, deeper understanding of culture.
The Laws of
Cool: The Culture of Information
Table of Contents
Literature and Creative Destruction
Part I The New Enlightenment
Preface "Unnice Work": Knowledge Work
and the Academy
1 The Idea of Knowledge Work
Part II Ice Ages
Preface "We Work Here, But We're Cool"
Part III The Laws of Cool
Preface "What's Cool?"
5 The Ethos of Information
6 Information is Style
7 The Feeling of Information
8 Cyber-Politics and Bad Attitude
Part IV Humanities and Arts in the Age of Knowledge
9 The Tribe of Cool
10 Historicizing Cool: Humanities in the Information
11 Destructive Creativity: The Arts in the Information
12 Speaking of History: Toward an Alliance of New
Humanities and New Arts (With a Prolegomenon on the
A. Taxonomy of Knowledge Work
B. Chronology of Downsizing
C. "Ethical Hacking" and Art