Neuroenhancers and the key to productivity
Margaret Talbot published an excellent piece about neuroenhancers in last week’s New Yorker. One of the drugs that Talbot cites and whose use has spread this decade is Modafinil, which I wrote about back in 2002. I said, “The existence of a wonder drug that could abolish a person’s need for sleep … should be just as impossible as it sounds.” As I feared, off-label use of the drug has only increased since I wrote that. And even neuroethicists have moved towards endorsing cognitive enhancement.
Every era, it seems, has its own defining drug. Neuroenhancers are perfectly suited for the anxiety of white-collar competition in a floundering economy. And they have a synergistic relationship with our multiplying digital technologies: the more gadgets we own, the more distracted we become, and the more we need help in order to focus. The experience that neuroenhancement offers is not, for the most part, about opening the doors of perception, or about breaking the bonds of the self, or about experiencing a surge of genius. It’s about squeezing out an extra few hours to finish those sales figures when you’d really rather collapse into bed; getting a B instead of a B-minus on the final exam in a lecture class where you spent half your time texting; cramming for the G.R.E.s at night, because the information-industry job you got after college turned out to be deadening. Neuroenhancers don’t offer freedom. Rather, they facilitate a pinched, unromantic, grindingly efficient form of productivity.
There’s a much cheaper way to achieve productivity that we inexplicably gave up in the name of progress. It may be painful, but it’s worth a shot: Turn off your cell phone, unplug your wireless router—I know it feels strange, but vaguely familiar like how things used to be—sit down at your desk, and get to work.