Van Ogtrop is the author of Just Let Me Lie Down: Necessary Terms for the Half-Insane Working Mom.
Who doesn’t love a good life hack? Whether you’re storing Christmas ornaments (hack: use empty egg cartons), opening clamshell packaging (it’s easy with a can opener) or organizing plastic grocery bags (stuff them into an empty paper-towel roll), somewhere there’s a shortcut or trick you can use to make your life easier and prove your cleverness to yourself and the rest of the YouTube-viewing world.
Our life-hacking obsession has grown from a passive enjoyment of the TV show MacGyver to an entire, very active industry with websites and books and apps galore. At this moment, someone somewhere is hacking something, and I don’t mean in the cloud where all your data is securely (ha!) stored. I mean that in an average kitchen or bathroom or basement or garage, some enterprising citizen of this glorious nation is proving her resourcefulness, saving money and flaunting her ingenuity like there’s no tomorrow. If MacGyver could see her, he’d weep with joy.
So life hacks are great, right? Right! Until they’re not. Just ask bacon. Bacon was perfect until the past decade, when some foodie marketer decided it should be trendy and our enthusiasm for it overtook all rational thought. And then manufacturers began to add bacon to beer and toothpaste and condoms and vodka, and suddenly there was chocolate bacon cheesecake, which I actually paid cold hard cash for last month, and when I took one bite, I thought, O.K., that’s it, we’re all going to hell. Bacon, poor bacon, is proof that if you love something you must set it free–that is, before you add it to chocolate cheesecake.
And so it is with life hacks, because now software engineers are trying to convince us that everything is hackable. To wit: next month a Silicon Valley investor/marketing dude named Dave Asprey is publishing a book called The Bulletproof Diet: Lose Up to a Pound a Day, Reclaim Energy and Focus, Upgrade Your Life, in which he describes “hacking his biology.”
You may know Asprey from his Bulletproof Coffee or from his blog, which exhorts us all to “Search. Discover. Dominate.” (First step: skip breakfast in favor of a bizarre, sludgy cup of strong coffee mixed with grass-fed, unsalted butter and Brain Octane™ oil, which you can conveniently buy, along with the coffee, at bulletproofexec.com.) Anyway, Asprey claims he lost 100 lb. and gained 20 IQ points with his Bulletproof Diet, and now he wants the rest of us to hack our biology and follow his excellent example. All I have to say is that if gaining 20 IQ points requires drinking coffee with butter in it, I’d rather be dumb.
I have no doubt that Asprey is quite smart, and certainly he’s an excellent marketer (think Timothy Ferriss meets Tony Robbins), but let’s take a lesson from the ruination of bacon. Just because you can add bacon to chocolate cheesecake doesn’t mean it’s a good idea. And there are things in life that, even if they can be hacked, shouldn’t be.
For example, you should not hurry your lacrosse-obsessed 7-year-old son’s long, digressive, boring plot summary of the movie Crooked Arrows, as much as you’re dying to check your email. He sees that phone in your hand and is really hoping you don’t look at it. Never mind that you have watched Crooked Arrows with him at least four times and could yourself recite the plot even while under general anesthesia. Don’t hack your interest in your child’s interest. Bad parenting, bad karma.
You should not hack a conversation with your teenager about drugs, drunk driving, unprotected sex or crazy people on the Internet.
Don’t hack the conversation you have with your parents about what life was like for them when they were your age. (Or their estate planning, medical history and DNR orders. Just saying; you’ll want to give these items full consideration.)
Don’t hack taking a walk with your arthritic 11-year-old Labrador, whose time on this planet is coming to a close. Speaking from experience here.
Don’t try to hack bulb planting, pruning perennials, plucking your eyebrows, making a cake from scratch, sewing on a button, composing an email to your boss or writing a speech that you must deliver at a wedding, retirement party, graduation or funeral. For all these activities, there is no way insufficient effort will produce optimal results. Or to put it in engineering terms, “garbage in, garbage out.”
Which brings us back to today’s hackathon. Although I have no interest in hacking my biology, there’s one thing Asprey and I agree on. You can hack breakfast. But I would not do it by drinking coffee with butter and Brain Octane™ oil. I would hack breakfast with a piece of avocado toast. Yes, avocado toast has taken the nation by storm. And when we see avocado toast in a box of chocolate cheesecake–well, then we’ll know we’ve gone too far.
Van Ogtrop is the editor of Real Simple and author of Just Let Me Lie Down: Necessary Terms for the Half-Insane Working Mom
This appears in the November 24, 2014 issue of TIME.