Words: Devlin Thunder (he/him)
All-nighters are synonymous, infamously, with the university student lifestyle. Alongside the flat parties, club nights, socials and nutritionless cuisine, the concept of the “all nighter” is a must-check-off experience on a long list of university staples. In 1996, the University of Bath unveiled its new library extension and its brand-new opening hours; 24/7. Although beneficial for a late-night (or early morning) revision session, does this new era of 24-hour libraries set an unhealthy precedent for the intensity of our work ethic? It begs the question: why is our relationship with stress as a society such an abusive one?
The seeds of the ever-growing “hustle culture” could be the consequence of a post-Taylorist view of how a society should strive to work. Post-Taylorism perceives the worker (us) as something/someone that should strive to obtain and maintain the most efficient way of working in order to minimise any “wasted” time. Frederick Winslow Taylor, the mechanical engineer who coined the term, oversaw a series of experiments in testing and finding the most efficient means for workers to produce goods from the late 1880s to the beginning of the 20th century. However, there was a lot of pushback in the popular culture of the 20th century towards these robot-like methods of work imposed on factory workers – see Charlie Chaplin’s Modern Times (1936) – the sentiment of wasting time and in turn, utilising any available moment to study or to catch up on missed work, has managed to stick around.
TikTok is the perfect cross-section to observe these ideas of neo-Taylorism, with the “5-9” work day trend becoming increasingly popular. People from all walks of life post videos of themselves waking up in the dark, going to the gym, journaling, meal prepping, long walks and trips to their desk or local library to “get ahead”. One of my personal favourites is @conallrice, whose lifestyle would leave me perpetually bedridden. And although it’s not all bad, with a lot of his content focusing on getting organised, eating well, and being your best academic self, it fails to achieve realistic relatability. Conall wakes up between 6am and 7am and immediately hits the gym where he lets us know what muscle groups he’s targeting that day. He reads a chapter of the book he’s reading, makes a nutritious breakfast – avocados are a regular – and then studies for his medicine degree which, in addition to his 5-9, he is currently on placement for. It is motivational and, to a certain extent, quite helpful to see things like this online, mapping out ways in which we can achieve academic and personal success. However, there is no end goal, and these routines are perpetual. The world health organisation has studied the effect of habits such as these with Dr Maria Niera, who concluded ‘working 55 hours a week is a serious health hazard’. With the existence of 24-hour libraries (and gyms), there really is no means of shutting off. Much like Tiktok, it could lead to an endless rabbit hole: working, studying and stressing until you eventually burn out or give up.
A poll taken among 13 second year students at the University of Glasgow showed that about 61.5% were actually in agreement that a 24-hour library would be beneficial to their studies. One participant stated that ‘I feel as if it would provide me with more flexibility with study’, with others agreeing, commenting that ‘being in a different environment heightens my productivity compared to being at home’. These answers represent a few of the responses to the poll. The underlying pro of the 24-hour library is the flexibility and separation of work and home which, arguably, is a rebuttal to the 5-9, which allows productivity to bleed everywhere, all over the home and workplace. The other 38.5% of the poll more or less commented that they ‘like to work late but having the library close around 1am is a good limit for [themselves] because otherwise [they] wouldn’t sleep’. Others supported this opinion by stating that ‘it could promote a bad routine of studying through the night and [were] not sure if the library is busy enough at those times to justify staying open’.
Despite the risk of burnout, maybe 24-hour libraries do open a window for flexibility, as well as the separation between downtime and work. However, the line is indefinitely blurred within the capitalist-centred society we live in, and “flexibility” could be a slippery slope into restrictive habits. Anything that can bend can break eventually.