If you’ve listened to a talk from a tech company over the last few years, you’ve almost certainly heard someone proclaim that data is the new oil. The phrase is widely attributed to British mathematician Clive Humby way back in 2006 who explained:
Data is the new oil. It’s valuable, but if unrefined it cannot really be used. It has to be changed into gas, plastic, chemicals, etc. to create a valuable entity that drives profitable activity; so must data be broken down, analyzed for it to have value.
The debate may not be worth having because caffeine might really be the new oil.
Michael Pollan, celebrated author of multiple books including The Omnivore’s Dilemma, makes that claim in his new audio-only book How Caffeine Created the Modern World. Pollan calls caffeine “the most-used drug in the world”, claiming that 80% of the world’s population consumes it every day — including children (consumed as soda). In an interview in Fortune Magazine, Pollan points out that being caffeinated is no longer an unusual state but rather our baseline of human consciousness.
If data has changed the world, caffeine made it possible. Cue legions of programmers living off of vats of caffeine. But caffeine’s impact is much wider and deeper than that.
Backed by research, Pollan shows how caffeine changed the course of human history – deciding wars, creating businesses, changing politics, and even spurring the Industrial Revolution. Over time, coffee replaced alcohol as the most popular daytime drink for American and European workers. This allowed longer hours for workers and made them less prone to accidents. As a result, productivity dramatically increased across all industries.
Caffeine is amazingly self-sustaining. Caffeine plants attract bees and other insects needed for pollination. However, bees can get addicted to caffeine just like humans – ensuring they return for pollination and keeping the plants alive.
Caffeine contains an inorganic compound that attaches to receptors in your nervous system blocking a chemical that tells your body when it is running out of energy. Because the quarter-life of the compound is 12 hours, it can inhibit your body from entering a deep sleep which can cause you to wake up tired. In another self-sustaining cycle, caffeine’s main use is to mask the problem it creates by helping users be more alert after waking up.
Oil is powerful. Data is powerful. But caffeine is even more powerful.
Someone will eventually coin the phrase: “_____ is the new caffeine.” I wonder what the _____ will be.