The Twentysomething Lifehacker

My friend Cal Newport has a good essay in Flak Magazine on the paradox of young lifehackers. Money quote:

Since when did twentysomethings, the demographic that previously gave rise to the beatniks, hippies, punks, and slackers, care about something so prosaic, so establishment, as to-do lists and reclaiming wasted time?

Cal offers some insight into the burgeoning category of young people who undergo extensive goal setting exercises and inbox-efficiency tests.

I still think the period of emerging adulthood is marked more by slouching around than hyper-organizing; more wandering than end-in-mind focus. But there is indeed a minority of folks like my blog friend Scott Young who represent this breed of focused, young lifehackers. With the web they can connect, form a community, share tips, and most important, feel less strange that they care deeply about getting the most out of every minute of every day.

5 Responses to The Twentysomething Lifehacker

  1. Jesse says:

    While I like the observation, I’m kind of perplexed as to why he paints the lifehacker as the diametric opposite of the beatnik/hippie. While their goals are no doubt different, I think that there’s a fair amount of thought that went into the youthful movements of the 60s and 70s. Several of them were incredibly introspective, thoughtful people that were forward-thinking and genuinely believed that the way they were living life was truly the best way that they possibly could. The same goes for lifehackers of our generation.

    The pathway of personal fulfillment manifests itself in different ways. For some people, starting a successful business and turning a profit is the very definition of success. For someone else, it might mean hitch-hiking across the country in search of oneself. Stripping away the minor differences, are they not the same people?

  2. Jesse says:

    Tangentially, think of the possible impact that the beatnik/hippie movement could have had if they had the networking tools available to the lifehacker generation. It’s definitely worth considering, given the momentum that the movement had at its height.

  3. Cal says:

    Jesse, Ben forwarded me your comments. Interesting points.

    I think the important difference between lifehacking and previous youth movements is its relationship to status quo society. The beatnicks, hippies, slackers, and punks, in the tradition of most youth movements, were counter-cultural: they defied conventions of the older, establishment generation.

    Lifehacking, however, at least to me, seems pro-cultural. The quest for more productivity is ingrained throughout corporate america, classic self-help, etc. Lifehacking just changes the delivery vector. So something different is going on here…

  4. Jesse says:

    You’re talking about ends, though, and I’m talking about means, Cal. Who is to say that a hippie couldn’t/wouldn’t use GTD in his or her effort to overthrow dominant cultural norms? Why can’t the beatnik carry around a hipster PDA and use a daily/weekly review to better find him/herself?

    These GTD practices, while seeming existent only to serve the status quo of efficient corporate environs, really apply anywhere and can be used by anyone. We, as the inactive twenty-somethings of the TV generation, cannot claim a premium on these methods.

    This underscores one of the most bothersome things about this whole emerging GTD movement that I’ve observed. People treat it like it’s something more than just a series of habits–as if it’s a culture, a lifestyle in and of itself. It’s almost akin to religion, in that it’s viewed by many as a panacea to most people’s problems. It’s not.

    You use paper and pen and your computer in efficient ways. This is not remarkable. This does not justify entire segments of the blogosphere dedicating themselves to the movement. Better Homes & Gardens and Women’s Home Journal was doing stuff like this long before Merlin Mann and Gina Trapani were even conceived. This is not new. This is not profound. This is not deserving of the attention it’s getting.

  5. Cal says:

    Whether or not some of us like it, and for whatever reason, lifehacking has become a serious movement. From a writer’s point of view, that makes it interesting. The fact that there’s nothing revolutionary about the underlying information makes it, to me, all the more interesting to look into. But I’m wierd in that way…

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