I agree, in that it was more fun (don't know if it was more cool).
At university, I never saw the machine we programmed. Back then it was coding sheets handed through a hatch and because the university leased much of its computing out to local companies, a 24 hour debug cycle. The fun in this was in getting your code correct the first time.
When I got a computer of my own (kit ZX80) I pretty much used machine code exclusively. The fun there was in coding directly to the 'machine' if you will, and in learning and using the cpu's primitives, and to some degree, what was going on at the logic level inside the chip.
The only fun I get out of contemporary computing these days is in teaching it as an academic. The fun is when you see students 'get' some subtle concept and their eyes light up.