cover image Hacking Life: Systematized Living and Its Discontents

Hacking Life: Systematized Living and Its Discontents

Joseph M. Reagle Jr. MIT, $24.95 (208p) ISBN 978-0-262-03815-7

In this insightful, evenhanded book, Northeastern University communications professor Reagle delves into the motivations and mindset of “life hackers,” people who work to improve their lives by trading tips and tricks gleaned through experimentation. This study’s other purpose is to consider what the popularity of life hacking suggests about the challenges of living well in an increasingly busy, market-centered age that rewards efficiency, competition, and self-disciplined productivity. Reagle devotes chapters to six domains of life often targeted for systematic self-improvement—time, motivation, physical objects, health, relationships, and meaning—contextualizing life hacking inclinations within a broader scope of American history and culture. The excellent chapter on hacking “stuff,” for instance, explores the commitment to “cool tools” and personal minimalism typical among life hackers, and then draws connections to a wide range of cultural artifacts including Thoreau’s Walden, the tech-hippie bible The Whole Earth Catalog, midcentury disability advocate newsletters, and Marie Kondo’s KonMari method. Reagle argues that life hacking culture has two contrasting strains: one shaped by the manipulative grandiosity of “gurus” selling extreme methods to outcompete others, and one shaped by collaborative amateur “geeks.” Throughout, Reagle reiterates the importance of moderation, encouraging readers to understand both the potentials and limitations of the life hacking approach. Readers seeking to understand this “individualistic, rational, experimental, systematizing”—and increasingly influential—mindset will enjoy this lively, well-written take. (Apr.)