This version of the site is now archived. See the next version at

“Life Hacks” Are Dumb

What if we sought wisdom instead?

May 30, 2018Filed under Theology#culture#life hacks#wisdomMarkdown source

I don’t know where the idea of “life hacking” first appeared, or who first coined the term, and frankly I don’t much care about the details. The phrase itself says enough. It is the stereotypical and often self-caricaturing ethos of Silicon Valley: the rejection of what has come before, only to discover/invent/disrupt it as if it were wholly new, and proclaim the glories of tech startup culture.

We did once have a word for the idea of being attentive to your own strengths and weaknesses, and disciplining yourself in response to this so you could accomplish the things that are truly important. We called it wisdom, and the pursuit of it was considered—in some circles, anyway—one of the great aims of human existence. All the great philosophical and religious traditions have had something to say about it. Many of them even find considerable concord on the sorts of practical wisdom for accomplishing goals that is an essential part of human flourishing, even as they disagree sharply about what constitutes that human flourishing!

But look to the tech startup scene and “wisdom” is not a word to be found in that vernacular. Instead we have “life hacks.” The anthropology here may be implicit, but it’s also obvious, and very dumb. We are not machines to be hacked. We are people, who ought to seek the good—wisely.