Once upon a time, it was cool to be a nice person. Being cool meant you put the extra effort in to be impressive (in addition to being talented, polite, good-natured and socially competent). It was a balancing act of self-awareness, modesty and charm in a variety of social and professional situations. People used to try; they genuinely wanted to leave a flattering impression in person because online didn’t mean anything. IRL was all we had to show people the best version of ourselves. Things changed when Instagram made it too easy to look cool without actually being cool.

Now there’s an overpopulation of “cool” jerks who don’t possess any social skills at all. There’s a terrifying gap between online and offline personas and I’m really not impressed by it. It’s scary actually, when you finally meet a seemingly cool Internet celebrity and they’re rude or boring because they’re actually fake and disengaged. It’s the type of person who doesn’t try anymore because they’ve “made it” on the Internet and they’ve earned the right to be a dirtbag. Or the kind of person who won’t shake your hand because they don’t feel the need to engage in physical human connection anymore. What’s the point of keeping up with polite social gestures when you’ve got the followers and the good life on the Gram? I guess there isn’t any point to it. I guess looking cool is more important than behaving like a cool person.

It makes me wonder where we all went wrong. Was it Instagram? Or have we always been like this and we were just waiting for a technological excuse to be miserable assholes to each other? Maybe deep down, we all feel more comfortable when we’re pretending to be uptight, cold and pretentious. Unless there’s something to gain (sex, jobs or opportunities), people don’t even bother to impress in person anymore. The ego that fuels our personal online branding has blindsided us from the interactions that matter more in reality. It’s easy to put more energy into looking cool online because we’re rewarded immediately with likes, DM slips and hot notification action.

Working in retail, I’m in an ideal situation to analyze people’s behaviour online and offline. I get to watch and experience first-hand what people are like in a shopping environment where customers are frequently entitled, demanding or rude because they want everything their way (not all of them, but some of them). When customers don’t get what they want, they get upset. They yell or threaten to leave a bad review or tell their followers not to shop at my workplace anymore. You’d be surprised how far some people go to get free things or refunds or whatever else they want from small businesses. Thankfully, the Internet allows me to see these people for who they really are online because nothing is private anymore and it’s easy to search whoever I want.

Look at it this way: if a customer is being a twat, it’s my responsibility as an online stalker to investigate further on Instagram. I want to see how this rude person presents themselves online. Do they look mean and aggressive in their photos? Do their followers know that they’re an asshole in person? Does their boss know that they yell at innocent retail associates on the weekends?

It’s sad to think that being cool isn’t even considered a good thing anymore, and it makes me think of all the bad things associated with coolness, like being narcissistic, opportunistic or desperate. Cool isn’t positive because we’ve all had enough bad experiences with so-called cool people who are big online and shitty in person.

The way I see it, it’s really cool when someone isn’t too cool to be friendly and make a good impression in person. We’re all trying to feel as good as we do when we score a bunch of likes on a selfie, so why not work a little harder outside in the world to be a little more modest, respectful and interested in other people around us? It’s time to start trying a little harder to be cooler in person than online. I’m not asking for everyone to be over-the-top extroverted or give hugs to strangers or whatever. I’m just saying that it would be really nice if we were all cooler in person than we are online. Now wouldn’t that be something!