fun is doing what you're not supposed to

February 27th, 2006

This time I'm going to forgo the whole production of introducing the subject and asking questions and just launch right into the thesis, then you can tell me if you agree or not.

I've read some literature on hacking the last few years and one of the things that comes up quite often is that the spirit of hacking is influenced by the notion of doing something naughty, something unorthodox, in other words something you're not supposed to do. Hackers sometimes like to point out people in other fields whom they consider to be "hackers", for instance Einstein. He was a great hacker, he was brilliant and he definitely did what he wasn't supposed to. Why do I bring up hacking here? Because the essence of hacking is having fun. So that's one fairly powerful group behind my theory. :) (btw if you think hacking means breaking into computers, you need to get your story straight..)

Why is it fun to do what you're not supposed to? Why isn't it fun to do what you're supposed to? Because, when someone gives you a task to do, they decide why. And that rationale is something you need to establish for yourself, without outside influence. It's fun to do things on your own, because you decide what to do, what to accomplish, how, when and why. Most importantly: why. You see, it's about creativity and spontaneity. Being spontaneous is great pleasure at times, it makes you feel empowered. "I just had this idea last week, I decided to work on it and now I have a working home made toaster." It doesn't matter what you do, as long as it's your idea to begin with. And that's the essence of it, you are master of your domain.

I built in 2000, because I was into building web sites and I was into Juventus. I wasn't the first person to have that idea, nor was I the only one at the time. But it was my project, I decided everything myself. And I did it when I wasn't supposed to, I worked on the site instead of doing homework. It was fun, really fun, the most fun I had in years. After a few years, when the fun ran out, I decided to give it up. For years I played with linux on my own, because it was fun. I wanted to try a lot of different things, some things worked, some didn't. It was all about exploring technology. I wasn't supposed to do it, but it was fun. This one you can relate to.. blogging is fun, isn't it? But we're not really supposed to do it, we're supposed to do more important things. Wouldn't it be great if people paid us to blog? No, it wouldn't. Then it would be a job, something you're supposed to do, it would suck the fun right out of it.

This is an illusion I used to have for many years in school. It was always a problem with motivation that I didn't like certain subjects. But in high school, you can choose what to take and so I thought the problem would go away. "I can choose what I want, this is great." It doesn't change anything. Because it's not really about what subject or field you pursue, it's about doing it on your own terms. As I look back, I'm surprised that some courses in college, which looked fun on the surface, became a real chore. I didn't see that coming, I thought "this would finally be a fun course".

Why is this, what's behind it? Doing things on your own means not having to live up to anyone's expectations. It means not having to take anyone's reasoning about what you should do and why for granted. Doing what you're not supposed to adds a spice to that mix, it adds excitement, a voice that says "I'm gonna show them that I can do this and come out on top". It's rebellious and people like rebellion, they like questioning authority because they like freedom of thought. It seems like a paradox sometimes. Doing something on your own terms means not having a deadline, being able to do it later or dropping it altogether. And yet that's when you work at it the hardest, isn't it? Back when I worked on juventuz I had a stronger determination and a greater attention to detail than I've had on any other project.

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3 Responses to "fun is doing what you're not supposed to"

  1. erik says:

    You can turn that around to motivate yourself. Whenever I would get stuck with some sort of university project or something else I didn't really want to do; I would tell myself: "Look, you don't have to do it. You can take another course if you must". That would give me a moment to breathe, get myself together and restart.

  2. ash says:

    I get what you mean about working hard on a project that is completely you're own. I know I've spent more time than I 'should' have on blogging and my website. But not everyone gets fun out of rebellion and questioning authority.

    The hacker/Einstein thing made me roll my eyes. It seems a bit like desperation to elevate a hobby to something else, the reasoning being that hacker's are mavericks, therefore they're like other mavericks. But that seems to be stretching the idea beyond breaking point.

    About blogging as a job, I agree that it could be less fun because of the pressure element. However many people thrive under pressure - they do better. And on top of that, having people liking what you do enough to pay you is bound to be rewarding.
    So I'd say that a lot of enjoyment is definitely possible within the constraints of a job or task that you haven't come up with yourself.

  3. numerodix says:

    the hacker thing: Well, hackers are proud people (the famous ones anyway) and they surely have done some important work, whether you want to compare that to Einstein is another matter.

    Won't argue with you on the rest, we're of a different mind (clever pun haha :rolleyes: ), so I'll leave it.