Enhancement is weird. It seems objectively obvious what is better and what isn’t. But then context goes and screws everything up.
The New York Times recently featured a debate series entitled Adderall in the Office (h/t James Hughes) in which a few thinkers (including two of my favorite bioethicists Savulescu and Parens) discussed the merits of using A.D.H.D. drugs for increasing productivity in the workplace. As I read, I found myself seriously questioning whether or not the type of “productivity” drugs like Adderall create is the type needed in the modern workplace.
I work in exactly the kind of environment where it would seem an obvious choice to take Adderall or Ritalin or Provigil to stay alert, focused, and productive. However, one of the things I’ve learned is that getting shit done often requires not putting your head down and grinding away at some task, but instead lifting your head up and talking to those around you. Teamwork, people management, and emotional intelligence seem to have as much an impact, if not more so on my “productivity” than pure output. Given that A.D.H.D. drugs often flatten people’s emotions, there is a serious question as to whether or not they might improve individual productivity but dramatically decrease the productivity of teams or companies.
I’ve taken Ritalin in the past to write papers (Yes, papers about bioethics. In fact, papers about human enhancement. Yes, I recognize the irony). What always stood out is how terrible Ritalin was for helping me develop the ideas and arguments for the papers. What I had to do was get in a very creative place (good tunes, fun environment) do some mind mapping and outlining, sketch the big ideas and goals and then take the Ritalin and crank out the paper.
I think what I’m getting at here is that the whole argument about “smart drugs in the work place” is kind of silly. Will people eventually take drugs that help them adjust to the task at hand? Probably. But those drugs will be different for different teams and for different projects. Managers might take drugs that improve empathy while designers take drugs that foster creativity while customer service reps take drugs that reduce stress responses. We need to start thinking of drugs as tools that help us get to the right state of mind for specific types of work, instead of as these weird super-powered universally effective potions that can generate something as ill defined as “productivity.”
Sometimes I wonder if the people writing this stuff have ever worked in the stereotypical office they are so often pontificating about.