“I am a life hacker.” To an ordinary person, this might seem like a confession of lifelong criminality. A hacker is popularly understood as someone who breaks into computers: those who exploit system weaknesses for ill-gotten gain. However, those willing to publicly identify as a hacker likely mean something different. Yes, hackers often have a technical affinity. And they do like to understand and explore systems. But for most hackers, a hack means a clever improvement or fix.

In the past ten years, the notion of hacking as a clever improvement has grown to include all aspects of life. Every age has it’s own flavor of self-help, and life hacking is the self-help movement of the post-millennium age. Life hackers share tips on how to efficiently tie shoelaces, pack luggage, find dates, and motivate themselves to learn a language. They track and analyze their eating, sleeping, headaches, and reproductive cycles. They do this in an effort to improve their own lives and the lives of others.

This project explores the history, culture, and implications of life hacking. How and why did this culture arise, and how is it different from what came before? What benefits and dangers emerge when life itself is treated as a something amenable to quantification and optimization? Surely we can all benefit from being more productive in our work, healthier in our eating and fitness, and happier in our relationships. We can learn a lot from these dogged self-improvers. Perhaps, also, we might learn of the limits of approaching life as a function to be optimized. Just as computer hackers can cross a line of propriety, at what point does life hacking become excessive? And, what does it mean for society when this individual pursuit becomes a cultural expectation?