Special Issue: Life Hacks

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The Special Issue #07 is comprised of two core components, a book titled Ten Theses on Life Hacks which is an attempt to define criteria for what constitutes a Life Hack, and a device called Iris, which purports to increase productivity in the workplace. Ten Theses on Life Hacks is meant to provide a widened perspective on Life Hacks and their relationship to our collective experiences and reflections. Iris aims to provide a real experience to each individual user. Ultimately, its goal is to achieve self-improvement.

Both components rely on interaction with an end-user; Ten Theses on Life Hacks is bound by the reader using a selection from an eclectic range of items so the user should have an active role and design a binding technique through an improvised Life Hack strategy. Iris requires the presence of the user to be triggered and the subsequent reflection time to be processed by the listener.

Ten Theses Archive

Ten Theses on Life Hacks

Ten Theses on Life Hacks is the first publication of Special Issue #07. It attempts to acquire a widened perspective on how Life Hacks can be defined and how they relate to our collective experiences and reflections. Life Hacks are small improvisational interventions to the immediate environment; spontaneous actions that aim to improve or adapt materials to specific needs. A simple example, such as tying a knot in a earphone cable to determine easily which is for the left ear or the right without having to look, can be considered a Life Hack. They are diasporic, shared within communities both on- and offline in ever-increasing processes of self-optimisation.

The text consists of ten theses, the first of which is a selection of criteria that allow us to test whether something is a Life Hack or not. The remaining theses present extended arguments supported by examples, on how to identify specific features of Life Hacks, in which environment (and space) they exist and what kind of culture they foster.

Understanding Life Hacks in the context of an advanced capitalist society raises the question of the ambiguity of a system in which the entrepreneurial routine of the self is internalized to perform an ever-working life. In actuality, Life Hacks bring about the possibility of reappropriating everyday life in a creative and practical response, managing precarity and complexity.

This publication includes a Life Hack in its format. With the addition of a series of holes, each loose page can be seen as a “hackable surface”. The publication aims to depart from the traditional form of a finished book, inviting readers to bind it using an eclectic choice from a range of unorthodox materials included with the publication. This strategy incentives the reader to rethink their personal ideal form of the book, transforming it into a hand-made object. As such, the publication is completed by the reader, who is left to improvise a make-shift solution to bind the publication. The goal is not only to share the text, but to also provide an experience in which a life-hacked binding transforms the reader into an active subject, rather than a passive consumer. This small conceit illustrates that the process is even more noticeable than the outcome.


Recycled kraft board
Paper (200gsm)
Cling wrap
Sticker label
Disused polystyrene food packaging trays
A wide range of unorthodox binding materials (e.g. paperclips, carabiners, rubber bands, nuts and bolts, earrings etc.)


File:X theses.pdf


Launched at Varia, the Centre for Everyday Technology (Rotterdam) on 31.10.18 as part of the event “Life Hacks: Space”, including guests; author and designer Françoué Giraremeunier, the WORKNOT! collective (Arvand Pourabbasi and Golnar Abbasi), Varia, the Centre for Everyday Technology (represented by Roel Roscam Abbing, Manetta Berends and Niek Hilkmann). The Life Hacks series is curated by Silvio Lorusso, and jointly organized by Het Nieuwe Instituut’s Research Department and XPUB.


Iris is a physical device, ostensibly, an “artificial intelligence”, whose aim is to increase productivity. It is installed in work environments where workers can easily interact with it. However, the device is inhabited by three different personalities: Corporate Guru, Pirate Signal and Announcer. The interactions with and conflicts between these three personalities forces the user to adopt a reflexive and critical attitude toward the device. The user triggers the performance and is placed in an ambiguous position; doubtful if the emphasis is on productivity or happiness.

Iris takes the appearance of a manufactured product; a compact 3D printed shell that contains a Raspberry Pi and two speakers, and at the top of the device, an infinity mirror with an LED strip and a camera. When it detects movement via the camera it starts to speak, and the LEDs, connected to the audio levels of the output, start to glow at different intensity in relation to the strength of the audio signal. When the device is active, the infinity mirror produces a combination of an endless light corridor and a faint reflection of oneself.

The Corporate Guru invites the user to repeat positive affirmations and invite self-inquiry into their thoughts as part of a meditative session. Its soothing voice is interrupted unexpectedly by the raspy, computerised whisper of a Pirate Signal, who responds with snarky asides that cast doubt on the Guru’s instructions and the very process of taking part in such sessions. Whether the Pirate Signal is part of the corporate manufacturer’s design or not is not clear; it could easily be coming from an outside infiltrator (e.g. a hackivist) whose aim is to subvert the process. The third voice is of an Announcer, who, every hour, between 9:00 and 17:00 (apart from a lunch break at 13:00), describes a work-related problem and a Life Hack which addresses it, reminding workers of their autonomy and suggesting practical ways to improve their everyday lives in small, improvisational actions.

Iris follows the conclusion of the first part of the publication, Ten Theses on Life Hacks, in which we outlined the meaning of the ambiguity within Life Hacks, everyday actions which address both an improvement of personal life and an excess of productivity that can eventually lead to burn-out. The aim was to create a device to let the user experience this ambiguity in a clear way and develop their own critical position.

We chose the environment of the work space as the site of a live interaction between the main character of the entreprecarious worker, and an AI which represents the ideal virtual coach. Iris is capable of incapsulating this ambiguity in itself and making the user conscious of it through natural language. Further developments consisted of how to embody this ambiguity into one AI and at the same time announce Life Hacks that can be executed by the user. To manage this complexity we decided to assign three characters to Iris and developed their interactions as a kind of struggle between these different perspectives.


Transparent and mirrored acrylic (laser-cut) PLA filament (3D-printed) Tinted one-way mirror film Bluetooth JBL speakers (x2) Raspberri Pi 3 B+ Raspberry Pi Camera + flexi cable LED strip WS1 + charger Audio jack (x2) and splitter Wires and jumper wires


Launched at Het Nieuwe Instituut on 13.12.18 at “Life Hacks: Introducing Iris (XPUB Special Issue #07)”, the third event of the Life Hacks series. Following the launch of Ten Theses on Life Hacks, XPUB’s 7th Special Issue is a further step of an inquiry into the meaning of Life Hacks. The Life Hacks series is curated by Silvio Lorusso, and jointly organized by Het Nieuwe Instituut’s Research Department and XPUB.