Crepuscular Solutions Limited
I had never considered my life as a machine until the early hours of one morning in winter, a few years ago.
I knew that my body was a construction, one that should be constantly examined and maintained, and I had ignored that particular must. I was paunchy with a lazy, listless sort of misery, and I spent many, if not most evenings like this, whilst living with my parents in the too-long holidays between university terms. I usually, as depicted in the photograph above, sat on the sofa, attempting to do work that was racing, Doppler-like, towards that point after which it would become an irrelevance. I would have the television on in the background, two screens each tugging at one of my eyes, after everybody had gone to bed, usually eating food that was healthy but still unnecessary, and praising the ectoplasmic efficiency, evident in all the tools surrounding me, but without substance or truth.
It was on a night like this that, through a digital manhole of other Gawker sites, that I discovered Lifehacker. I’m not sure if I understood its remit, at first, but after what seemed like only a moment it was three o’clock in the morning and Firefox had crashed (as it is wont to do) under the weight of tabs lined up with projects, large and small, that I could use to repair that paunch that hung around more than just my belly.
Lifehacker is a website that offers efficient, logical and cheap solutions to almost any problem that could present itself to a technologically blessed member of Western civilisation. It itself is part of a movement that expounds these lifehacks, a word that no longer warrants inverted commas, so ingrained is it in everyday life for many people. Its hacks can turn you into John Barleycorn, bypass Foxconn’s sweat lodges, or provide the scripture for a religion based around stationery. As far as I could tell, loping around the outskirts of the movement like a dingo, its origins lie in atavistic frugality complexes and common-sense discourse, combined with a healthy distillation of pastoral, hippy knowledge and the relatively new phenomenon of the completely digital world, in which one can change any aspect of one’s reality. It is rather natural for those who grew up hacking the base elements of their computers to wish to do so in RL as well.
As I began to explore the website, as well as others, such as The Setup and Get Rich Slowly, I was drawn as much to the hacks themselves as the tone of the voices that espoused them; almost every article put forward a simple and cheap solution to a small, niggling problem that would irrevocably change how the person lived, at a fundamental level, not just because the annoyance was solved but because that the person had taken the solution into their own hands. They had not paid a professional, or sought to ignore the problem as a necessary malaise of privileged life. The tone was not like that of other internet cultures, which very often bloom into parochial snobberies that pride themselves on esoteric apprenticeships in order to enter their enchanted circle, but was rather inclusive, instructive and ultimately positive. I began to build, whilst sitting there on that sofa at three o’clock in the morning, a picture of myself as a lifehacker – the combination of an eminently patient father, a survivalist and a Renaissance Man, self-reliant and lean with constant lathings at myself, using technology and the lateral portions of my brain to trim excess, from my body, my mind, my home and my activities, to allow time for…
Well, I wasn’t sure.
I was not born into the hacker/hippy conglomeration in which so many denizens of the elder Internet were incubated. I do not have a background in computer science, maths or carpentry. But I was sure that it did not matter. I wanted to teach myself MacGuyverish self-reliance, common sense and the monastic discipline it takes to live one’s life fully. Wherever I went on the website I discovered fixes for many problems that I had passed by and projects I had shied from, from the whiteness of my teeth to the state of my archives. I built two musical instruments from scratch. I am in the process of building a Linux server box. I taught myself HTML and CSS and built a website. I optimised my workflow to a swordedge, and digitised nine year’s worth of drafts, papers and records. I made a little more money from shrewd saving, became tidier, thinner (by at least a couple of stone) and happier. I grew my own vegetables, pickled and fermented, and built my own furniture; well, as of today, only a shoe rack, but it’s a fine shoe rack. It racks shoes, and that is all that matters.
I had founded a late-night religion for myself on that winter evening, or a business whose sole purpose was to give me more time and skill. And the people of Lifehacker had helped me.
But Crepuscular Solutions Ltd., as I have decided to name it looking back from several years later, had its problems. They were not problems with the lifehacking community in general, but problems which arose from the alchemy of lifehacking and my personality in a way that stripped much of the benefit from what I was doing.
Lifehacking is a practice that takes supreme agency. It requires that you engage fully with the world and your own private life, and generally move sentimentality to one side. This is something I find very difficult to do; I am extremely sensitive emotionally, as well as being a rather anxious person. I try and counter this with a keen interest in everything and a polymathic ethos that sits well at the feet of Da Vinci, Curie and Newton; people who were glintingly engaged in the world, willing to experiment, and, most importantly, have non-selective interest. Everything was worth consideration.
Evidently, I am not as finely prolific as Da Vinci, with his studies of his own body, his way of working and his diet; I became overwhelmed. Things in my life began to change, and as I struggled to find work, Lifehacker became one log in a raft formed online, of websites that offered solutions to problems that I did not even have. As I became bored with my own life I invented projects for myself that I rarely completed, due to a supreme lack of funds and a depressed, lackadaisical attitude. I was putting the paunch on once again, in both senses. I was not self-reliant at all, but reliant on this culture of cheery efficiency. I watched other people unfold their own lives and examine all parts, and I found it hard to even look at my own anymore. All these tiny solutions were not making me any happier.
I had developed a completionist attitude, a skewed logical step from the “problem -> solution” lifestyle that I was living. Much like the videogames that I play in my spare time, I thought that I had to have an end state, that after a while I would have accrued and learnt everything that I would need to learn, acquired all the technology that I would need, and the solutions to all of my problems, and I would exist in a static, peaceful state where I could just… well, yet again, I did not know. I assumed that that was when my great works would begin. I was ignoring many of the productivity secrets to which I was devoted to puzzling out. I was waiting for my life to be solved before I had begun it.
As I began to move deeper into the web culture surrounding lifehacking, away from the supportive environs of Lifehacker and into related topics, I began to feel threatened by what I saw. Some of the worst times that I had experienced were directly after failing to set up a publishing startup. The startup, as a culture, is directly related to the lifehacker’s sutra of self-reliance, and there was much cross-pollination in my research. Myself and my partner got very far in securing the technology, personnel and money to pursue this venture, even spending two days in conferences in a writer’s club in London followed by too much wine and too many talks about the future of the book, before everything, like an astronaut’s lunch through an airlock, was sucked away from us. I was distraught, having given so much of my time and energy to the project, and I began to feel threatened by the lifestyle I had once emulated. I found the pursuit of the startup aggressive and lacking in compassion, belt-fed by a desire for social media coverage and a Puritan attitude to work that I felt was unhealthy, and yet was expected of every young educated university graduate. Instead of being expected to leave university and find a job for the rest of one’s life, now a graduate was expected to work every hour that was sent, make their life efficient to the point of degrading their social bonds, and use these tools, these hacks that I had so loved, to estrange themselves from contemplation and time spent existing. I knew that that was not who I was, and that Crepuscular Solutions Limited was not the key producer of philtre I expected it to be.
I still read Lifehacker, and employ its tricks and solutions in almost every aspect of my life. It is still the seedbed for my foray into this world, and the place that I think has got the right balance between the relentless pursuit of literal and metaphorical weight-loss and existing in a way that bears some resemblance to life ante-modem. But I do feel that the life technologists are encouraged to lead, that evolution of religion into the Noble Eightfold Hack, is a path that can seduce a little too effectively, especially people like myself, looking for something to busy my problems away, in the early hours of one morning in winter, a few years ago.