We live in a world where anybody with access to the internet can order a medicine cabinet of illicit substances. But it’s not blue crystals that people of the world yearn for when phone alarms desecrate the darkness of before-sunrise.
Caffeine is the most frequently consumed psychoactive drug in the world.
It’s a rite of passage. As your boundless, other-worldly kid-energy wanes, and the drudgery of adult anxiety and compartmentalised human labour kicks in, solace is found in the bottom of coffee cups, the crushing of aluminium cans, and the neck jerk of swallowing a few capsules.
Given that this vice is as much a habit of grungy, attemptedly existential teenagers as it is to their high school’s staff room, it’s goddamn inconspicuous. Not innocuous, however. Science has recently confirmed that caffeine serves as the layman’s ooga-booga mask and its absence his kryptonite; once addicted, your base-line performance is poorer than your buddies who don’t need it, but once in your bloodstream, you’re for all intents and purposes Superman (note: this is an online article. Do not jump out of your window after chugging a can of V, genius).
Here’s my attempt to anecdotally disentangle (by way of stream of consciousness) some of the characteristics I feel are associated to the different manifestations of everybody’s lifeline.
I started drinking Red Bull regularly at around 12 years old. I remember my English Teacher fretting each morning about this noxious new-world elixir I was haphazardly mainlining into my prepubescent body. This is around the time I got my own bedroom and started using Tumblr, meaning that my *~*~~*bloglyf~*~*~*~ followers could still expect new content at 2am, and I could pretend to function at school the next day.
With tablespoons full of carbonated sugar as an innocent crutch for the bitterness of caffeine, the humble energy drink is the gateway to a life of addiction.
The most interesting thing about energy drinks in my mind is their branding. Whilst all coffee looks essentially the same post the process that brings it to your mug, the graphic design clinging to your chosen can is intended to say a lot about who you are.
I count myself among the ranks of your self-righteous Red Bull purists, but don’t typically tend to over-think crossing the line into enemy territory when I’m offered a free can of anything else. My closest kin is of the V and 28Black ilk, the former promoting their carefree party attitude and sweet-tooth, the latter indulging in quasi-obscure consumerism, typically found in the claws of the kids in expensive-looking black clothing.
Mother, Rockstar, and Pure drinkers, I don’t know how you do it, but I applaud your dedication to ridiculously over-sized cans.
Coffee came onto the scene in my first year at University. Adults drank it, I was convinced I was becoming an adult, so I drank it (plus if you could learn how to operate it, the ingredients for the coffee machine at the student radio station were free, and I’m a cheapskate). Brown ring stains were to become the identifying feature of my coursebooks for the next 4 years.
Coffee culture is so entrenched in our understanding of adult interaction that the stepping stone to numerous friendships is a few hours with another human in a shop that serves the stuff. Psychologists report people are more receptive to another with a warm cup of joe in their hand. It’s in offices, it’s in home kitchens, it’s in the bleachers at sports games.
People don’t hang out and drink energy drinks, unless you’re working overtime on a group project (that you already know everybody else is going to let you down on); the only other commercial space people congregate for the sole purpose of talking and consuming liquid is at the pub, which potentially supports as much bonding as coffee houses, but definitely hosts more fights.
On top of the culture, there’s the form it takes. You can have a long black, short black, cappuccino, mochaccino, flat white, cold brew, or any of the mutations that Starbucks has magicked into existence. You can get it cold, and you can get it hot. We’ve all got the gist of it, but we conceptualise our coffees very differently.
What this all means is that despite being the oldest caffeine trick in the book, coffee seems to be perpetually in its heyday.
Pills (the legal kind)
A few months back, I decided to hit some caffeine pills. These were not mollys, I did not sweat. The tagline promised me ‘transparent focus’, and that was enough of a sell to get me to swallow two per day as deadlines loomed (small text on the back informed me more than 2 was a danger, and I ain’t playing with new-age juju).
There is no culture around popping magic pills: this was all performance-focused.
There were less jitters than experienced when I pour my third coffee of the day, or tip back a half-litre can of cold, carbonated energy drink, in an attempt to rekindle a tepid love for tapping at my computer’s keyboard and ‘productivity’. The ‘high’ is cleaner, but in that sense, you almost don’t notice it.
Because I feel like I’m a step-ahead of McFly in Back to the Future 2 when I swallow a chunk of caffeine, I think there’s potentially some placebo effect in the perception of productivity. But what’s life experience if not placebo?
It wasn’t quite the plug-in Matrix experience. I wasn’t reborn, my procrastination gland did not disappear, but I got work done. Isn’t that all we’re looking for at the end of the day?