Podcast #539: Life Hacking, A Reexamination

In an effort to get more done and be our best selves, many of us have turned to “life hacks” that we find in blogs, books, and podcasts. I’ve personally experimented with several life hacks in the past decade, and we’ve even written about some on AoM. But are there downsides to trying to hack your way through life? 

My guest took a look at both the positives and negatives of life hacking in his book, Hacking Life: Systemized Living and Its Discontents. His name is Joseph Reagle, and he’s a professor of Communication Studies at Northwestern University. We begin our conversation with a history of the life hacking movement and how blogging in the early 2000s made this obscure cultural movement amongst computer programmers go mainstream. Joseph then discusses how he distinguishes between “nominal life hacking” and “optimal life hacking” and between “geeks” and “gurus.” We then discuss some of the beneficial productivity and motivation hacks out there, but also how there are ways they can go astray — including only working for a certain class of people and becoming too much of a focus in life. We also discuss how the minimalism movement can sometimes lead to contradictory impulses, and end our conversation talking about how using spiritual practices like meditation or Stoicism as hacks can strip them of their deeper contexts.

Show Highlights

  • Defining life hacking, and its origins 
  • How is life hacking different from other types of self-help?
  • The difference between geeks and gurus
  • How life hacking often speaks only to upper class creative types
  • Nominal life hacking vs. optimal life hacking 
  • How your optimized morning routine can become a hurdle 
  • Hacks that actually work for keeping yourself productive
  • Where productivity hacking can go awry 
  • What’s the draw of minimalism? Are there downsides?
  • The moderated approach to life hacking 
  • The rise of the quantified self (and the possible dangers of hacking your health)
  • Meditation, Stoicism, and Zen Buddhism 

Resources/People/Articles Mentioned in Podcast

Connect With Joseph

Joseph’s website

Joseph on Twitter

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Coming soon!

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