Of all the things to emerge from the ubiquity of the web, the 'life hack' craze is one of the most interesting. Life hacks are essentially small tips designed to make life easier in small ways, or to impress friends with your creativity. They range from turning crisp packets into foil bowls to creating makeshift speakers for your smartphone. From folding our shirts more quickly to getting a workout on the route home from the shops by shrugging shopping bags. These are tips that have immediate rewards and that have spread virally across the web.
The Perfect Tonic for the Digital Age
In the digital age we are increasingly obsessed with 'short-form' entertainment and ideas. Our attention spans have famously shortened thanks to the constant sensory overload that comes from having so many screens switched on at any given time, and as the pace of life has sped up we have less and less time to devote to hours of reading or lengthy new training programs. The term 'hack' is also highly appropriate vernacular for a digital age in which we spend more and more time using 'software'. Wouldn't it be great if we could just 'hack' our situation and get more out of life?
Meanwhile, our motives and desires have remained largely unchanged. We want to be more attractive to the opposite sex, we want to save money, we want to live in nicer homes and we want to increase our health and fitness. Life hacks offer the promise of these changes without any of the work. They give us a little moment of triumph, to see immediate results of our actions, and they genuinely can make life a little easier. It's like bite-sized self-help, viral ingenuity; engineering solutions for everyday problems.
For the most part these life hacks are fun, useful and handy for helping us to improve our way of life. Whether they give you a neat party trick to show your partner next time you crack an egg, or whether they save you two minutes each morning when choosing the clothes you're going to wear to work.
But they can also be useless distractions that look smart and fail to save us any time or effort. Worse, they also have a potential to be unhelpful and this is something that's important to take into account.
Good Life Hacks Versus Bad Life Hacks?
A lot of life hacks for instance appear to be clever for the sake of being clever – their aim is to fix what ain't broke and as such they can actually end up taking up more of your time and effort and not helping all that much. Others meanwhile will look clever on the surface of it, but then present with lots of problems when you actually try to use them.
For example: to save time when getting clothes out in the morning, why not stack your folded clothes sideways with the edges facing outwards?
Sure, that sounds like a great tip and the idea of not having to rummage is appealing, but most people won't get much use from the tip because their clothes will bend and crumple when stacked sideways. Or they'll catch on the other clothes and pull them all out. Or they won't fold in a uniform manner…
That idea for enhancing the sound of your iPhone (the one with the toilet roll and paper cups) is great looking too… until you realise it's never useful. At home you probably have speakers or a laptop you can use and you're not going to want to have toilet rolls all over you house. So you use this tip when you're out, right? Well only if you happen to have access to a spare loo roll and two plastic cups. Not useful!
Others just plain don't work. Why not cut a cake with floss? Because 9 times out of 10 the cake will be too tough and that won't work. Why not store a bagel in a CD holder? Because why, that's why…
Simple Solutions for Complex Problems
These are examples of some of the worst life hacks sure, but they're actually not all that far from being generally representative of the situation as a whole.
Fortunately these life hacks won't cause you many problems, but when they become a little more worrying is when they are used to try and 'solve' bigger problems. If you are legitimately too poor to by a $20 speaker for your iPhone, then really toilet roll isn't going to address your main issue.
A lot of life hacks meanwhile revolve around saving time and doing things more quickly (though not always more efficiently). Really this is just indicative of the problem we all have these days: not enough time and too much to do.
If you find yourself having to constantly take shortcuts just to fit all of your errands into a single day, then perhaps it would be more useful to look into why you have so little time and how you could possibly make life a little easier for yourself. Hacks by their very nature are random 'tips' from complete strangers that aim to offer simple solutions. That's not to say they can't be fun and handy in some cases, just remember that that's probably all they're going to be.
Want to solve all your problems? Then lock yourself in a bunker somewhere with your eyes closed and noise cancelling headphones on. Done!