The New Instrumentalists: The Modern Myth of the Life Hacker
The idea of life hacking—the cultivation of techniques and stratagems to reduce the friction of everyday life—is not merely the adroit use of organising technologies for personal and professional advantage, but is tied to a larger field of practice in which adepts employ techniques and training methods to shape and enhance the potency of the human as a universal instrument.
While life hacking as self-optimisation can be considered a contemporary sophism, an attempt to teach skills for success in ventures and debates, today’s life hacker not only seeks to optimise time and mind but also to enhance the body and its ability to perform, endure and overcome.
Life hacking is not only carefully concealing electrical cables or making to-do lists, but involves the transformation of the individual into a tool, and often, a weapon. The physical dimension of life hacking is related not only to technological discourse but also to that of war and military training, through the practice of physical culture and the martial arts.
Discipline, challenges, sacrifices, problems, these are the tools with which the life hacker, a neo-stoic secret agent, begins sculpting not only the body, but also the soul. Through a simulation of evolutionary pressures they seek to control their adaptive fitness, whittling themselves down to the basic forces necessary to leverage even the most barren environment.
At this moment, when the technological imperatives of efficiency and efficacy are bound to the social drives that guide the paring away of perceived human weakness, a new philosophical vision of the human emerges, one in which the life hacker is already every possible tool they will ever need, in which they possess a ‘total morality’, the ability to summon human compassion, as well as the forces of inhuman violence and suprahuman persuasion.
The life hacker appears first in myth, in the figure of the wiley, hyper-adept agent, possessing foresight and capable of eliciting advantage from any part of the environment—both a weapon of the weak and a godly, sovereign power. In its contemporary aspect, the modern myth of the life hacker is a violent and universalist polymath, specialising in the arts of war and wisdom, in the means of controlling the environment, instrumentalising both human and technical vulnerabilities.
The life hacker is not only strong, not only capable, but also always dangerous, always perceptive and cunning, ready to transform any situation into a relationship of angles, firing lines and leverage. Life hacking is contemporary strategy for a world of secret agents with no mission save the liberation of themselves from the prison of their finitude.
The ultimate objective is to endow the life hacker with the ability to enter any environment, to have access to the potential available in any given situation, a pursuit of self-reliance, autonomy and personal freedom through an independence and originality of personal means.
Life hacking is more than technical tricks, more than exercise, it is a total-system training philosophy, a psycho-physical methodology, a collective effort to transform the practitioner into a weaponised version of themselves. Publicly, the goal of the life hacker is ‘success’, measured as the potential of money and free time. But the true objective is the instrumentalisation of oneself, others, and the environment.
The life hacker wishes to master of a field of action that places the actor in a hidden position of advantage, safe from the terrors of contingency and violence, free to act upon the world with unwavering efficacy.
This is the secret of life hacking, its hidden meaning beyond the strategies for efficiency and coherence: whosoever will hack themselves must first internalise their opposite, must plan for their own destruction, adopt the position of a weak and rivalled god, one who no longer leaves anything to chance.
So much for the myth of the life hacker, what of the reality? Who is it that engages in the practice of becoming-weapon, of becoming-cunning, is it simply those with a will to power and a desire to win? Or is it the broken, frightened, anxious, fearful, tired or impatient, those who seek power over themselves, to escape from whatever hell has become their lot?
Whatever the answer, one thing is certain, life hacking—the conscious construction of your self into a universal multi-tool, the inclusion of every possible scenario into a lifelong strategy for action—is a practical therapy, a martial-philosophy system, a speculative treatment for the problems of our age: uncertainty, contingency, trauma, and fear.
[This essay originally appeared in 2018 as an accompaniment to an exhibition by the artist Zoe Barcza. I’m adding it here just to produce some context, content and to share it a bit further, since its life as a catalogue text is well and truly over.]