The Caffeinated Masses

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So like I've been saying a lot in the past week, I've been reading a bunch of Chuck Klosterman. In about a week and a half, I read two of his books. It's sort of ridiculous. Anyway, because of this, I picked up Mountain Dew again. I bought two 2-liters of Mountain Dew and 1 2-liter of Vault from Wal-mart the other day. I finished one bottle today, although I haven't gotten any writing done. I think I really will get this paper done (or started) but I just have to muster the will. But all this thought about soda has made the think: when did we need all this caffeine?

Americans have this idea that we're working more and faster than ever. We're doing all we can to not fall behind. Our work ethic is unparralleled in all the world. We can't be like Mexico where we all take a nap in the middle of the day. We aren't like Italy where we work for six straight months and then take a six month vacation. We're not like Afghanistan where we can all take a break five times a day, find a good spot toward the east and pay reverence to all-mighty Allah. We're always moving.

But we don't really have more work to do. Apparently, we're wasting at least two hours a day at our jobs. We have masses of technology designed to make everything easier. We have so many various elements to make our commutes smoother, ergonomic chairs at our desks, Firefox just makes for a better internet. Workplaces have internal email, VoIP, teleconferencing, etc. If the job is supposed to be easier than it ever was, why are we working more than ever before?

I'm no scientist, but I'd like to posit that we're not. We used to be hunter/gatherers. We used to follow the migration of our prey. Then we were egrarian. That still goes on to this day in the Midwest. Is there anyone who thinks that they're working harder than farmers? Do we really think the 300 million people in America would be well suited if we all went back to an egrarian lifestyle? I know I don't want to be a farmer. And you've heard the tale: plowing the fields from sunup to sundown, extra care for the weather, taking care of the livestock. It's because of the difficulty of this work that there are those like Thoreau and Emerson who idealize this "simple" life. I can tell you one thing, this life isn't simple. Rand mentioned that it's the best way for an intellectual to serve when he is betrayed in Atlas Shrugged. This woman likely didn't live on a farm. Hell, she ran from Russia.

But my main point is that we aren't working any harder than we once were. Now, I know this observation goes against a strong dictum I follow: Comparison does not make anything easier; it just makes you feel guilty for complaining about a situation that isn't as bad. When you work diligently in an office, while the job may be difficult you're still not milking cows before the rooster crows. But here's my ultimate point: why do we need all this caffeine to head into the office?

Have you ever read The Grapes of Wrath? Despite the horrid "ending" of the novel, it's truly a testament to the greatness that is Steinbeck. This dysfunctional family is making their way across the nation with little more than salt pork and coffee. Coffee. They didn't have a five thousand dollar espresso machine. They didn't need to differentiate between 2% or skim milk. They had plain old coffee. No one had to explain to them the difference between Arabica and Robusta beans (which I only know because of my time at Jazzman's). Back in the old days, people had coffee. They didn't know or care that much about it. They just woke up in the morning and sometimes they had coffee. Sometimes, they'd go work and then come back later and have coffee. They still had to accomplish tasks (gasp!) without caffeine first.

But now, we have so many different products that ensure that we get caffeinated up before setting foot out the front door. You can get it in the shower; you can have Starbuck's in your very own kitchen; you can have something that's not quite Red Bull but stronger than soda; you can even get it on the go. We have found so many ways to energize ourselves for jobs that are apparently easier than they have ever been. We have more vitality for less activity. If the Irish farmers only had Red Bull, they could have avoided the potato famine.

But why do we feel this intrisic need to hop ourselves up on caffeine? I'm going to take the easy way out and blame the media. It's been a tried and true scapegoat for some time so I'm not going to reinvent the wheel here. But the media only explains the perpetuation of these ideas; it's the egg, not the chicken. These products were made and advertised, but there had to be a reason why they were made before Madison Avenue bombarded you with the need to learn aviation from an energy drink. That I haven't quite figured out yet. Maybe it was the breakout of Starbucks in which people learned they wanted more than a Venti cappuccino could provide. Maybe it was the desire to actually gain the will to ride through a long commute and Tom Joyner just wasn't doing the trick. Maybe it really was the fact that an additional pick-me-up was necessary when people all over the world migrated from the fields to the skyscrapers in ultimately, soul-searing lifestyles.

I don't really know what it is, but I know that I don't like how we're pushed toward needing more caffeine. I love coffee. I like Mountain Dew and Vault. I like Red Bull. I like how a Jager Bomb gets you drunk and awake at the same time. I ingest caffeine because I like to, not because someone tells me to. At least that's what I'd like to believe about myself.

But if I order caffeinated soap over the internet one day, I require my closest friends to kick the crap out of me.


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