Nicola Twilley in Aeon:
Readers of Hacker News, a website popular with programmers and tech entrepreneurs, were the first to latch on to Rhinehart’s Soylent post, encouraging him to share the recipe online. When he did, it quickly spawned an animated Reddit thread in which DIY Soylent adopters reviewed recipes, discussed magnesium sourcing, and compared bowel movements. Within three months, Rhinehart decided that demand was sufficient for him to quit his tech start-up and form his own company in order to supply Soylent to the masses. By the time Soylent 1.0 started shipping in May 2014, the company had already accumulated a backlog of more than 20,000 pre-orders, adding up to more than $2 million dollars in sales and – at a conservative estimate – a collective saving of 2,875 years.
hat, one wonders, are people doing with all this extra time? Will we see a new Renaissance: a Soylent-fuelled flowering of novels, art or, at the very least, apps? It is perhaps too early to tell, but early signs are mixed. Rhinehart has ploughed his 90 minutes a day into launching his company, and says he still has ‘a long reading list, a long online course list, a lot of personal projects I’d like to do’. He is not against using the time for relaxation, of course, and tells me that he’s heard from other early adopters that they spend an extra hour and a half watching TV, hanging out with friends and family, or just catching up on our pervasive national sleep deficit.
‘Just giving people a little more time in general is something the United States really needs,’ he told me. ‘However you use that time is up to you.’
My own experience bodes less well. I lived on Soylent for five days (Rhinehart sent me a week’s supply, but I cracked early) and I was indeed painfully aware of vast open periods that I would have typically spent planning, shopping for, making, enjoying and cleaning up after meals. Much to my editor’s disappointment, I spent all that extra time joylessly clicking around on the internet, my brain resisting every effort to corral it into more productive activities as if it knew it was being cheated of an expected break. (My editor kindly pointed out that this might be more of a reflection of my own personal failings than a shortcoming inherent to Soylent.)
Of course, this is not the first time Americans have been promised relief from the time-suck of food preparation. Today’s Soylent craze has its roots in the post-Second World War embrace of convenience foods. And, then as now, the range of possible uses for that saved time ranged from the trivial to the substantial – but with a much more gendered twist.