Complete Story


Why 'The 4-hour Workweek' Still Feels Relevant Today

Some 'strikingly prescient' advice on remote work, email and overwork

In March 2007, the attendees of South by Southwest Interactive, a technology conference held in Austin, Texas, had reason to be energized. The Silicon Valley startups celebrated by this gathering were on a roll. In 2004, Google’s twenty-three-billion-dollar I.P.O. had marked the end of the Internet-business malaise brought on by the original dot-com bust. In 2006, Facebook opened its network beyond university students and was closing in on a hundred million active users, while a new, competing service named Twitter went live. And, just two months before the conference, Steve Jobs had stood on a stage at San Francisco's Moscone Convention Center to announce Apple’s latest product: the iPhone.

The culture emerging from Silicon Valley during this period celebrated overly caffeinated young hackers who were staying up into the night, moving fast and breaking stuff—all in the service of building companies that could make them sudden millionaires. In this environment, work ethic became as celebrated as vision or innovation. It was a high compliment to be dubbed a “10x engineer,” meaning that you had the kind of brain that could produce computer code ten times faster than the average programmer. At M.I.T., where I was studying for a doctorate in computer science, the undergraduates I knew used "hard-core" as a term of admiration for those able to push through overwhelming loads of school work. (Partly in response to this valorization of overwork, M.I.T. banned triple majors.)

It was against this backdrop that an unlikely speaker, a 29-year-old Princeton graduate named Tim Ferriss, was preparing to take the stage in Austin to deliver a contrary message. After college, Ferriss had moved West to take a sales job at a Bay Area digital-storage business named TrueSAN. He eventually quit to start his own company, which sold a neurotropic nutritional supplement popular among athletes. Inspired by the Silicon Valley culture that surrounded him, Ferriss worked extremely long hours. At one point, he went on a vacation to Florence with his family and ended up spending 10 hours a day working out of an internet cafe.

Please select this link to read the complete article from The New Yorker.

Printer-Friendly Version