The newish web mag Real LIfe, which describes itself as a "magazine about living with technology," has a fascinating piece about “productivity drugs” like Ritalin and Adderall, which for years now have been the go-to stimulant of overachieving urban professionals and cultural workers. The piece parses the relationship between productivity drugs and our economy's injunction to be always more "productive," a dynamic that can only lead to diminishing returns. This piece was written by "Fuck Theory," the alias of a New York-based scholar and writer. Here's an excerpt:
Productivity drugs don’t take a “normal” or “average” person and “boost” their productivity. That is not their nature. Their true nature, misnomer notwithstanding, is to struggle to patch up the gap between our body’s capacities and the social idea of those capacities. Productivity drugs may incidentally help us make things; but they are prescribed to help us resolve the cognitive tension between what we’re doing and what we think we should be doing. Productivity drugs, in short, are better ethics through chemistry.
Take “productivity drugs” if you want. Just keep an eye on two basic things: How happy are you with the “product” you’re producing, and what is the sum cost of the drug? That doesn’t just mean what you pay out of pocket when you pick up your prescription; it also means: How much time do you spend trying to track it down? How many days are you hung over and incapacitated after you go crazy with it? If Ritalin lets you do five hours of work in three hours, but you spend four hours the next morning rehydrating in the dark because your head hurts, that pill has actually cost you an hour. At that point, the only thing that still counts is the specificity of the actions accomplished in those three hours of peak speed craze. Was the work too urgent to wait? Was the payment higher if it was finished sooner? Were you really really excited and really wanted to get it done and email a picture of it finished to someone? Did you find the conversation at that party absolutely fascinating and work a half-day of jaw pain from all the teeth grinding the next morning? These are the subjective dimension of value that are not only impossibly and absolutely subjective but also irreducibly contextual.
Image via New York Times.