Last Updated on October 29, 2020
We’re a world obsessed with life hacks. One search on Google for the term ‘life hack’ throws up 339,000,000 results at the time of writing alongside videos on how to clean smartphone screens with citrus, images demonstrating how pouring soda into ice trays can keep a drink cold without becoming diluted, and millions of articles explaining how removing the stems of strawberries with a straw will ‘change your life’ – or words to similar effect.
However, the term ‘hack’ refers to gaining ‘illegal access’ to a computer, system, or device. This provides life hacks with the connotation that they’re clandestine shortcuts that promise huge returns for little effort – that you’re exploiting a loophole in life to cut corners and steal a march on other people.
The hacks that we expose ourselves to online appear to provide us with eye-opening insight into how we can achieve great results with little effort, but in reality, it can often only be our perception that gets hacked. Many tips and shortcuts that we see are actually largely unnecessary, long-winded, or altogether far more dangerous than the existing alternatives.
So what is it about the term ‘life hacks’ that have kept us so obsessed in the age of social media? Let’s break down the world of the life hack to see how it evolved to become such a powerful buzzword:
The Anatomy of The Life Hack
Writing for Hackernoon, Mike Sturm determines that to use a hack, you will have needed to do one of two things:
Renegotiated or eliminated the commitment to – or desire for – a result, putting in its place some other, more easily achieved result.
Or, act as if the effort or cost has been cut out with a hack when in many cases it has simply been deferred or shifted elsewhere.
Either way, in many cases you’ll have not gained exclusive access to envisioning a shorter way to get from A to B in terms of your goals, and instead will have altered your perception of your goals. In utilizing life hacks, many of us may find that instead of getting from A to B, we’re in fact arriving at C – which is an easier point to reach but not entirely what we were hoping to achieve.
(Image: Venture Beat)
The rise of the life hack coincides with reports that the human attention span is shrinking in the digital age. While the notion that humans now have an attention span that’s shorter than the average goldfish may sound humorous, it may go some way into explaining why we’re drawn to the instant gratification factor of life hacks – even if said hacks don’t quite deliver us to exactly the same goals.
With this in mind, it’s fair to say that hacking can be a dangerous thing and that a growing obsession with cutting corners could be leading more people towards hazardous fixes.
The more people continue to measure the success of others, their product, and businesses by how much they hack, it can distort how we view the goals we’re working towards. Furthermore, we run a real risk of allowing instant gratification to overcome our capacity for patiently working towards our goals.
The continuation of life hack gratification could contribute to the devaluing of the things we create and work towards. Put simply, if we spend 50% of the time and energy on something, it runs the risk of undermining how much we care about the end result.
Aside from value concerns, hacks and workarounds can be dangerous because they have been constructed as a means of creating a shortcut to tried and tested processes. It’s impossible to fool the universe, and typically a life hack will involve effort being expended in one way or another.
The fact that some users bill life hacks as a shortcut to physical goals also sends the culture into altogether more hazardous territory.
Health Risks Behind Life Hacks
We may readily associate life hacks to makeshift smartphone stands and quick fixes regarding the preparation of food among countless other weird and wacky techniques, but the rise of social media has begun to encourage an altogether more sinister form of hack.
Video-based social networks like TikTok have become massively popular in recent months, but the platform has come into a great deal of criticism for the content that’s being posted onto the site.
Recently, health advocates have warned that TikTok’s content has been shown to promote eating disorders through the form of content advocating ‘life hacks’ such as eating ice, sleeping all day to avoid feeling hungry, and fasting in order to experience rapid weight loss.
One specific example of a ‘life hack’ that proved to be extremely popular among viewers involved a video of a TikTok user rubbing hydrogen peroxide onto their teeth with a cotton wool bud in order to make them appear whiter.
Having amassed over 15 million views, the video prompted reports of a spike in hydrogen peroxide sales as a result. Being a key ingredient in bleach, the video has prompted an outcry among dental professionals.
The fact that social media users are evidently willing to indulge in extreme and desperate methods to achieve a new level of perceived beauty perfectly illustrates our corrupted idea of getting from A to B is such a swift manner that we don’t mind ending up at C just as long as we achieve quick gratification.
With impressionable users opting to purchase bleach to whiten their teeth as opposed to approved and safer methods like Whitestrips or even toothpaste, there’s a strong indication that the ‘life hack’ and the culture surrounding it has become an increasingly sinister movement.
Hacking is a dangerous activity because users are tricked into thinking that they’re changing or bending the rules of nature. But in reality, we’re merely removing effort and patience in a bid for some form of gratification. In an era where humans have a shorter attention span than goldfish, going from A to C is more appealing than waiting to arrive at B.