Evolution Shift
A Future Look at Today
November 22nd, 2006

Coffee and Caffeine

We seem to have become much more of a coffee culture than ever before.  It is now hard to be in any large city in the United States where there is not an abundance of places to buy coffee. Twenty years ago you could buy coffee in any neighborhood, but it was at a restaurant or a fast food outlet.  Now there are places that basically sell just coffee, with a small selection of companion snacks and cold drinks added into the mix.

Starbucks has gone from being a curiosity to one of the best known brands in the country and now, the world.  People, who, ten years ago knew coffee to be regular or decaf now speak of lattes, mochas, macchiatos  and double espressos. There are heated conversations about the comparative merits of coffee from Guatamala and Costa Rica. People in offices take turns making the mid afternoon ‘Starbucks run’.  ‘Let’s meet for coffee’ is now as common a phrase today as ‘let’s meet for a drink’ has been for decades.

There have always been cultural and culinary cycles in society.  We seem to still be on the upward slope of the coffee cycle in the US.  Why is this?  I think that there are several reasons, both due to the product itself and then all the trappings and social practices that have grown up around the product.  Today a look at coffee the product..

Simply put, caffeine is a stimulant.  We all know this.  It is one of the primary reasons we drink it, because it stimulates the nervous system and the heart.  It is a pick me up or a wake me up.  When the caffeine hits, it feels good, we feel better, more alert, perhaps even happier.  It is the universal pick me up beverage.  We drink it when we haven’t had enough sleep, when we have to focus on a project or paper that we don’t really want to do, when we have crossed so many time zones our body is rebelling.

In a post I wrote about napping, I suggested that we are getting more and more sleep deprived because of the ‘always on’ culture we now live in.  Every thing is available 24 hours a day.  Stores are open 24 hours a day so we can always go shopping.  If not in your neighborhood, the Internet is always on for those that want to shop.  We can watch TV, listen to radio, surf the Internet all the time. Blockbuster movies open in theaters at 12 midnight on Thursdays. There is always something going on in today’s society.  When the bars close the breakfast places are opening up. So, practically any form of entertainment or guilty pleasure is available to us whenever we want it.  New York City used to be called ‘the city that never sleeps’.  Well, now the U.S. is the country that never sleeps.

Our world of work has equally expanded.  We ‘do’ email before the kids get up, we ‘do’ email after the kids go to sleep.  We nervously check our Blackberrys and Trios while standing in line or riding in a cab.  The ‘work day’ is no longer 8 hours, but literally 24.  Sleep at your own risk, you might fall behind!  Take the afternoon off?  At your own risk!

Less than 200 years ago, the United States was still an agricultural society.  This meant that time was measured in seasons.  The planting season, the growing season, the fall harvest, the hibernation of winter.  A work day was defined by daylight.  Remember, it was a 100 years ago that electrical lights first started to become widely used, so even if one wanted to work after dark it was difficult to do so.   Even 50 years ago, when the Industrial Age was at its apotheosis in the U.S., the work week was Monday to Friday and generally 9 to 5 unless one worked overtime.  Now in the Shift Age, we are all working overtime, all the time.  While all this incredible amount of change has occurred and the speed of change has accelerated, the biology or physiology of humanity has not changed nearly as much.

Now that tobacco use has dramatically declined and most other drugs that stimulate the nervous system are illegal, what’s left to keep us going?  That’s right:  caffeine!  The next time you walk into a Starbucks, particularly in the morning, look at the people waiting in line for their stimulant drink.  They seem to be half asleep, not much affect on their faces, suffering from staying up too late doing email or surfing the net or tired from poor sleep because they couldn’t stop their minds from thinking about work all night. 

I truly believe that the growth in coffee stores has a direct correlation to our speeded up, ever more connected life styles.  Cell phones, the Internet, laptops, wireless and Starbucks all exploded onto the national landscape during the same 15 year period.  Looking ahead, it is clear that our coffee culture will continue to grow.





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