Merlin’s weekly podcast with Dan Benjamin. We talk about creativity, independence, and making things you love.
ETech Notes: Englishmen on the beach, attention deficit, and the 12-inch Life Hacks remix
Merlin Mann | Mar 18 2005
I’m back from ETech and starting to recuperate a bit. It’s amazing how just a few days and nights can be so exhilarating and exhausting at the same time (esp. if one of those nights is spent on a fake beach with a lot of English people who drink like sailors). (Incidentally, if you have a pulse and a POP account, I probably owe you at least two email replies at this point, so accept this massive group apology until I can shovel my way toward the light.)
I reckon that if my technical prowess were more mature, I might not have to confess that all my favorite conference stuff inevitably happens outside the sessions—although in the case of ETech, the ones I caught were all very good. But there’s a weirdly “Disney World” quality to wandering around a hotel lobby bumping into, literally, dozens of clever, hilarious people whose work you’ve admired and enjoyed for years. Such a thrill for me. Like meeting Santa, Han Solo, and The Monkees all in the same friendly bar.
I think Danny and my talk went pretty well, although I’ll probably not repeat my iconoclastic experiment in skipping the PPT deck (sorry you all were stuck with just my mug and a bunch of hand waving). The most interesting part for me came after I’d closed out the talk mentioning how aging or disabled people are almost necessarily life hackers, in that they must constantly find novel ways to route around challenges. No fewer than three people approached me right after to talk about ADD and the ways to fight it, harness it, or, in one case, to celebrate it. Fascinating stuff that I’ll be thinking much more about—especially given that I’ve always suspected I’m an undiagnosed ADD sufferer. May be a life-hacking gold mine there.
Also, the conference theme of remixing was picked up and munged in countless ways by the speakers and attendees, and I think its relevance holds for the themes we talked about in our session. Particularly, I want to keep exploring how the frameworks for thinking about change and improvement compare across different domains. What tricks of training athletes might be useful for frequent travelers? Are there tips from cooks, nurses, and librarians that might lead to an “aha” moment for a creatively constipated programmer? Can we derive any patterns for self improvement that apply transparently across multiple jobs, domains, and challenges? Which ones just don’t work in other contexts? Great and inspiring stuff to mull over.
I really do think this is all just going to get more and more interesting to watch. As vocabularies evolve and as we start unpacking what “life hack” can mean to different people, I suspect we’ll start to see some surprising turns. What began with Danny’s informal research to break the code of alpha geeks is evolving into a broader conversation about how people think about their options in life and how they learn, cope, and make decisions that get them closer to where they’d like to be. That’s an idea that a lot of folks can probably find both useful and noble. And there’s nothing wrong with that.
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