The travails of Manning Bar have been well covered previously in Honi. The demise of compulsory student unionism (CSU) and the unattainable cost of renting close to campus have correctly been given as reasons behind the decline of the bar. However, it has been over a decade since the abolition of CSU and rental affordability has been an ongoing issue, and yet Manning Bar continues to fade further into irrelevance. Manning and Hermann’s recently reported a loss of $245,000 over 2018. In response to questions from Honi, the USU attributed some blame for the poor performance of the bars to a “significantly changed drinking culture on campus.” What, then, is this new culture, and why have students so rapidly abandoned the haunts of previous generations?
Bertrand Russell argued that “modern technique (technology) has made it possible for leisure, within limits, to be not the prerogative of small privileged classes, but a right evenly distributed throughout the community.” Education, in only the past decade, has become remarkably more efficient. The wonders of the Google search, online library databases, Computer Aided Design software and the wildly underappreciated command-F function have, among countless other tools, combined to trim hours off the learning process. It should follow, then, that this efficiency dividend has furnished students with unprecedented amounts of leisure time. It is clear, however, that this dividend is not being spent socialising at uni.
The strangely positive connotations of ‘grind’ or ‘hustle’ are a puzzling recent addition to the student lexicon. When one is hunched over a laptop in the small hours of the morning, fermenting in one’s own stress-induced sweat and the entrenched odour of Fisher, the self-congratulatory refrain of ‘on the grind’ emerges in stark contrast to the depressing reality. In the New York Times, Erin Griffiths wrote of ‘hustle culture’ as “obsessed with striving, relentlessly positive, devoid of humour…” For those who binge on corporate office dramas and devote more time to their LinkedIn profiles than their social lives, a simple beer at Manning is incompatible with the unending competition which marks their university philosophy. To indulge, even briefly, at Manning would be to fall behind in the rat race for an unpaid, unvalued internship at a nondescript corporate body. Griffiths again: “spending time on anything that’s nonwork related has become reason to feel guilty.” While ambition should not be discouraged, its elevation above all other considerations while at university leaves one with a sense of waste. Not until retirement will we again have so few obligations. The companies which so many seem so willing to submit themselves to are unlikely to look favourably upon a weekday afternoon spent at the pub with friends. So venture out of Fisher, patronise Manning – a misspent hour won’t derail a whole career.
According to Russell’s theory, we should be invested with an excess of leisure time. And perhaps that is so. But, it can be argued that the efficiencies gained in university in the last decade have acted to discourage leisure on campus. Online lectures, the emergence of almost entirely online subjects, and the digitisation of research have all acted to reduce physical presence on campus to something of a nuisance. Cramming uni into two days is an achievement to be lauded and leaves little space for on-campus leisure time. The days, often long and with few breaks between classes, become chores to be dispensed of in the most efficient manner possible. Success in tutorials is marked by achieving the minimum amount of social interaction with classmates. The efficiencies which have revolutionised tertiary education in the last decade have, for many, reduced the university experience to a utilitarian and transactional one. When uni becomes transactional – I turn up to tutes, you give me a degree — leisure time becomes irrelevant. Spending time at the bars is incompatible with this increasingly utilitarian attitude of students to their education.
While there are myriad generational and economic reasons behind the decline of Manning, the increasingly dour and stoic attitude of many students should not be ignored. Despite living in an era of unprecedented social and sexual liberalism, young people today are drinking, drug-taking and love-making at lower rates than at any time since the sexual revolution. We consume more sport, yet participation declines further every year. The sun shines warmer and more often, and yet we recoil from it. While the corollary of this is not necessarily that our leisure time is now spent in bed with the curtains drawn, drinking kombucha and masturbating, it is perhaps not so foreign an image. To sit under the sun on the terrace at Manning with a beer and a friend, with the quadrangle and jacarandas in the background, is one of the great remedial pleasures afforded only by Sydney Uni. So go to Manning, and stop being such nerds.