For some time now I’ve found something unseemly about the hacker movement that I couldn’t quite articulate. I’m not referring to developers and entrepreneurs, but the general life hacker, growth hacker, education hacker, hack-it-all culture.
As someone who has spent the better part of his life trying to minimize work, I completely understood the idea of hacking things to find a better way, but I often found myself cringing whenever I read about hacking this or hacking that. At first I thought I was just being jealous, but as I continued to watch the hacker movement grow I finally realized what was bothering me. They were promoting a culture that put shortcuts above all else.
It’s one thing to say “let’s find a better way,” but when shortcuts are celebrated as victories unto themselves with no regard as to how they are achieved, it becomes all too easy to cross the line into lying and cheating while wrapping it in the acceptable guise of hacking. As I watched people put out blog posts, and even books, essentially bragging about how they tricked someone it occurred to me that somewhere along the way the hacker culture transformed from one that was legitimately looking for better methods into one that was simply a justification for dishonesty and laziness.
You didn’t lie to get an airline upgrade, you hacked the agent. You didn’t drop out of school, you hacked your education. You didn’t mislead to your employer, you hacked your career. You didn’t scam users, you growth hacked (at least Mark Pincus fessed up). It’s reached a point where I wouldn’t be surprised if the dictionary defined “Hacking” as a euphemism for lying, scamming, cheating, stealing, and all purpose deception.
On top of the justification of deceit, the hacking culture also promotes a belief in self important exceptionalism. Those who subscribe to the idea that hacking is always legitimate are essentially declaring themselves above all laws and rules. For them, rules are for “regular” people. Hackers are above such things as rules, after all, you’re not breaking the law, you’re hacking it.
From what I can tell, hacking culture also frowns upon honest work and effort. Don’t go to the gym, hack your workout. Put in serious practice to improve your skills? Why would you do that when you can hack your way to being an expert. How about an honest day’s work? Bah! That’s just crazy talk. Just hack your job.
Obviously we should look for tools and techniques that improve productivity but many who subscribe to the hacking culture are simply looking to avoid any actual effort. It’s essentially a get-out-of-work-free card.
How can any of this be viewed as something worth celebrating? Have we really become so ethically bankrupt as to celebrate a culture of deception? Even when hacking produces results, do we really not care how those results are achieved? How far away are we from committing financial fraud and calling it “bank hacking?” I’ll bet there are startups out there right now that have already done this. But committing fraud doesn’t become okay just because you call it hacking, and slapping the hacker label on yourself doesn’t make your misdeeds and lack of work ethic cool.
As I said at the beginning. I strongly support finding better ways to do things, including ways to minimize work. For entrepreneurs, finding a more efficient way is often the secret to business success. I get it. I even encourage it. But I also believe you shouldn’t lie to achieve these shortcuts.
I believe there is value in honest work and acting with integrity. Somewhere along the way the hacker culture crossed a line where any workaround could be justified. When it did, it found itself on a slippery slope where deception was often a point of pride. And at that point, hacking stopped being a culture of improvement and devolved into being a culture of lies and laziness.
[Illustration by Kyle Pellet for PandoDaily]