On Soylent and the troubling work culture in Silicon Valleyby@Omri_Aloni
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On Soylent and the troubling work culture in Silicon Valley

by Omri AloniAugust 6th, 2015
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TL;DR: The rise in popularity & investment in liquid meal replacements such as Soylent are reflective of an ever-increasing screwed up work culture.

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TL;DR: The rise in popularity & investment in liquid meal replacements such as Soylent are reflective of an ever-increasing screwed up work culture.

Not too long ago, I was riding the bus back home, doing what I usually do when I’m on the bus — read Flipboard or try to catch up on the endless amount of articles that I’ve saved to Pocket. I stumbled upon an article in The Times of India called ‘No time to eat, Silicon Valley drinks its meals’.

The author begins the article by telling the story of Aaron, a developer in Silicon Valley that works in an education start-up. Aaron is a hard worker, and to make sure that every minute is optimized for work and coding, Aaron doesn’t eat breakfast, nor does he eat lunch. He just works, non-stop.

Instead of eating, Aaron relies on liquid nutrition for the majority of the day, consuming a concoction of Macedemia oil and “Schmoylent”, a liquid meal replacement that supposedly has all the vitamins and minerals you need. As mentioned in the article, Aaron sips on a cold glass of Schmoylent from 6:30am to 3:30pm as to “completely remove food from the equation until 7pm”.

Now, reading this on a crowded bus in Tel-Aviv, after just having trained Muay Thai for 2 hours, I didn’t really flinch — but it certainly seemed odd. Until this past Monday (8/3), where Soylent 2.0, another liquid meal replacement heralded by Bay Area techies, trended as the top hunt on Product Hunt for the day.

I found this troubling for a couple of reasons:

1. Our work culture is becoming more and more f#$%ed up

Honestly, I’m not sure exactly what is causing the scales to tip — whether it’s the ever increasing demands of companies (tight deadlines, impossible sprints, late nights — we’ve all been there), or the growing competition in Silicon Valley/the tech scene as a whole and the growing need to be always be “better”. However, the amount of praise that Soylent 2.0 received on Product Hunt was wild, and only further exemplified the fact that we are becoming more and more immersed in our work. If you think about a scale where on one side you have ‘life’ (things outside of your work), and on the other end you have ‘work’, then the scale is being constantly tipping more and more in favor of ‘work’.

When Soylent was trending on Product Hunt, Hunters, Makers, and everybody in between were praising Soylent for being a huge time saver — so they could focus on their work, for longer. Just like Aaron. Lunches out with your co-workers? Socializing? Hell no. Ain’t nobody got time for that! Just keep working on sipping on that goopy mess.

Yes, I’ve read “Getting Things Done”. I’m also the one that’s always with headphones at work. Effeciency in the workplace is something that we should constantly seek to improve — but at what cost? I absolutely cherish going out to lunch with my colleagues. I think it’s absolutely vital to team bonding. And heck, getting a breath of fresh air really does bode well for creativity. I would never give that up, certainly not for an additional 45 minutes of work.

However, seems like adoption for products like Soylent has been widespread by the tech crowd and they’ve certainly done a good job on zeroing in on their target customers. One quick glance at Soylent’s website might affirm this from a marketing standpoint. There’s a call to action to subscribe for a 12 bottle shipment of the new-and-improved Soylent 2.0 even before it really explains what the product actually is, aside from being “simple, healthy, affordable food”(there’s a brief nutritional breakdown below the fold). To me, that seems like it’s set up to cater to somebody who already knows what they want to buy, and not a newcomer looking for more information. Messaging-wise, if you scroll down a bit you’ll notice that Soylent’s tagline on their video is “Use less, do more”. Well, when your work day is structured like Aaron’s, for example, where all distractions including food have been removed for the sake of productivity, then yeah — you should find something that allows you to “use less” and “do more”.

2. Why not actually make the world a better place?

Let’s suppose for a second that Soylent and Schmoylent really do live up to nutritional claims they make (Being a nutrition junkie, I don’t believe that anybody who is mildly athletic/physically active should be relying on any type of liquid nutrition, but that’s another debate). I want to see these types of products be marketed towards solving pressing world issues like 3rd world hunger, and not marketed towards the Silicon Valley techie who makes upwards of $100K/year but ‘doesn’t have time to eat’ because he either works at a company where social gathering/work-life balance is totally jacked, or he’s too lazy to get up 30 minutes earlier and eat a wholesome breakfast of whole foods.

I mean, sure, go where the money flows. That makes sense. But, if this stuff is all that it’s hyped up to be, then why not do some good with it? Surely countries like Africa or Nepal would do really well with this all-encompassing, ‘just-add-water’, powder that’s cheap and supposedly has all the nutritional properties that your body needs. Can you imagine the amount of good that something like that will do? And hell, poor Aaron might actually learn to make a healthy omelette in the morning.

So put that glass of white goop down and actually go out and eat your lunch with your coworkers. Unplug for a bit, breathe some fresh air, and actually get to know your colleagues. Or, stop being so goddamn lazy and wake up 20 minutes earlier, cut up some veggies, toss them in a pan with some eggs, and voila — you’ve got yourself a healthy breakfast that wasn’t engineered in a lab (and actually tastes good!). Seriously, if you’re a hustler, developer, analyst, whoever, and you haven’t yet realized that an investment in your nutrition is just as important as an investment in your business, then you’re selling yourself short. Period.

This is, of course, my personal opinion. I have the utmost respect for any individual, entrepreneur, or company that seeks innovation and that is forward looking.