“Oh my god, I was up all night studying for this test but am still not prepared,” said the manic stranger sitting to my left. I nodded uncomfortably as I awaited an exam on “Dinosaurs and Other Failures,” trying to think of a response more inspiring than “Wow, that sucks.” Sitting on the stranger’s desk next to notes resembling ancient documents from the third century B.C. were three bottles of 5-Hour Energy. Oh my god, I thought. Is this test really going to be 15 hours? I began to panic, realizing that I would likely have to break my dinner plans. When I asked the girl to my right if the syllabus had indicated the test would be 15 hours, she looked at me like I was crazy before picking up her two cans of Red Bull and fleeing to the opposite end of the classroom.
When I glanced around the room, I realized that I had stumbled into the United Nations of energy drinks. There were black cans, white cans, big cans and small cans. Cans with colorful pictures on them. Some with long names, others with short names. Fat, skinny — everything you could possibly imagine. Never before had I seen diversity in such full effect. Why did everyone have these chemically enhanced energy drinks? What kind of test was this going to be?
It seemed that each of the 250 students in my class had a preferred energy drink that had been designed for them like a fitted suit. Explanations ranged from: “this one doesn’t make me crash afterwards” to “this one doesn’t give me heart palpitations.” Everyone I spoke with loved their beverage for a different reason. But it was never a positive reason like, “the great taste.” It was always because of the things their drink didn’t do that others did: “this poison doesn’t blur my vision as much as the other poisons.”
Why does this generation need so much energy all of a sudden? Are we doing more than previous generations? Let’s catalogue my Sunday. I woke up at noon, met my friend for brunch, took a nap, watched a basketball game, went out to dinner, watched a “Jersey Shore” rerun, spent an hour on WooTube (Wikipedia/YouTube), listened to a friend lament about girls, went to buy cookies and then slept for 12 hours straight. I have enough self-awareness to admit that I didn’t accomplish a whole lot that Sunday, but I lived to talk about it, energy-drink free.
What do people have against sleep? I love sleeping. It may very well be my favorite thing to do. But our society has conceived the notion that it’s glamorous to deny your body what it wants. This is why God created appetite suppressants, energy drinks and chastity belts. You need to eat and sleep to live, but researchers have found that resisting natural instincts is a lucrative market.
It might make sense for a doctor working a 24-hour E.R. shift to have a swig of an energy drink from time to time. But is it really necessary for my roommate to drink two Red Bulls before work at the University dining hall where he refills the ketchup containers when they reach dangerously low levels?
Never before had I seen my roommate as excited as he was when we saw a commercial for the new product 6-Hour Energy on TV. The introduction of 6-Hour Energy dethroned the previous king of energy drinks: 5-Hour Energy. And it’s inevitable that in time we’ll see the dynasties of seven and eight hour energy arise. At some point, we’ll logically come to 23-Hour Energy — at which point sleep will make the endangered hobbies list, along with knitting and yo-yoing.
Shockingly, professional athletes are drinking this poison, and even promoting it on TV. So in the spirit of research, I tried a 5-Hour Energy drink and went to play soccer. After thirty minutes, I threw up on the goalie and got a red card.
Being someone who can’t remember anything before the Clinton administration, I may not know much. But one thing I do know is that when my colleagues are snorting prescription drugs and drinking three bottles of energy drinks to survive a two-hour exam, something is wrong. What happened to the good old days when college students would stay up all night having sex and listening to music? Now they sit in the libraries cramming information into their heads the way frat bros smash cans against theirs, refusing to admit that their bodies can’t take any more. Something needs to be done. If I had more energy I’d try to figure out what it is. I wonder if the corner store is still open.
Lincoln Boehm can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.