It has been brought to my slothful, subpar-at-best attention that literally everyone in my field except for me is on performance-enhancing brain-'roids and it's only a matter of time before I slide turgidly into obsolescence and then die, sleepy unto my last breath (#lazyRpeople2). At least, that's the inevitable fate I keep seeing forecast in my medias, thanks to the current popularity of Competence: The Pill—a.k.a. Adderall.
Beneath headlines like "Adderall May Not Make You Smarter, But It Makes You Think You Are" and "College Students Using Adderall, Combining it With Other Substances and Tweeting About it More Often" and most recently "In search of perfection, young adults turn to Adderall at work," we learn that Adderall is the one thing that gets frazzled Millenials through the long, cold, creatively bankrupt night. It slices through writer's block like cheese and it bridles the body's instinct to recharge, because it must. Because they need it. Because the current job market is shitty and full of terrors, my sweet Old Economy child. (Also because it's basically speed.)
Is any of that true, though? I mean, IDK. I just use coffee (and not even BLACK coffee, #babiesRpeople3) for my all-nighters, and I'm pretty successful. But I've also met plenty of peers who swear by their Adderall prescriptions—not for day-to-day use, but as a stopgap to get through life's occasional shit-blizzards. And as much as I'd like to be smug about my big naturals (that's what I call my stimulant-free left and right brain hemispheres!), is that kind of supervised Adderall use among consenting adults really worth the level of collective hand-wringing it inspires?
Yes, debilitating drug abuse and addiction are bad. But we can level our concern at those things specifically without stigmatizing a psychoactive drug that a lot of people genuinely need. And what about people who don't "need" Adderall, per se, but who find that it significantly improves their lives? Who gets to decide the boundaries of that gray area? (My wacky idea: Medical doctors, not newspaper columnists and blog commenters!)
Here's Al Jazeera:
"I think part of the increase in the rate of (ADHD drug) prescriptions," said Dr. David Meyer, a professor of psychology, cognition and perception at the University of Michigan, "is that people both younger and older are coming to feel totally overloaded with bunches of information and are trying to cope with the increasing demands as best they can."
Our brains have mechanisms of executive function, similar to a computer operating system, he said. These mechanisms keep people's situational awareness up to speed and coordinate progress on various real-world tasks. But these executive functions are under constant attack in the modern world.
"Even a 10- (or) 20-second interruption can make you lose your situational awareness entirely," Meyer said.
In many of the information-based jobs available to young professionals, those interruptions are not just unavoidable collateral damage; they are baked into the job itself.
It's alarming to imagine that our web-centered lives have become so fractured and frenetic that we actually need medication to keep up, but what if we just do? Even if it were possible (which it isn't) to roll back all of the staggering technological and cultural boons of the internet age, should we really want to just because in the middle of writing this paragraph I stopped and read the Wikipedia page for Joey Jeremiah for 12 minutes? That brief loss of "situational awareness" is a sacrifice I'm willing to make for the sake of global literacy and the Arab Spring and SVU on Netflix.
And what if that really happens? What happens if that's the future? What if, in an increasingly information-dense world, Adderall becomes the norm and the highest tier of elite info-jobs become accessible only via performance-enhancing mind-drugs? What then?
Well, there's only one way to find out. Let's play DYSTOPIAN VISIONS!!!
Like cosmetic surgery, cosmetic neurology will likely be available only to those with the disposable income to afford elective medicine, expanding the already wide gap between the haves and have-nots. Drugs like Adderall already tend to circulate among the wealthy — those who come from competitive universities and have access to health care that covers expensive prescriptions.
The rise of "cosmetic neurology" could effectively render the old "bootstraps" mythos even more absurdly unrealistic than it already is. "Listen, poor kids—all you have to do to succeed is overcome your derelict public school systems, out-perform thousands of other much more privileged students, shake off centuries of systemic oppression and discouragement, and have enough money to BUY A NEW BRAIN. Now stop asking for hand-outs, gahd."
On top of that, creatives who use Adderall to pull all-nighters or juggle overwhelming to-do lists tell me that it vastly increases their efficiency but very slightly stunts their originality and artistic fluidity. So—taking into account heightened expense and stifled creativity—what you'd wind up with is an already privileged "elite" class that's hyper-efficient but lacking in vision, and a much larger population of "normal" people who actually create things (but slowly, because of endless, thankless toil and/or Xbox).
It's a nearly perfect parable for another ever-present modern fear: the death of longform writing and the rise of aggregation. We've already begun building an artistic economy out of efficiency—at this point, much of television is reality-based, and reality shows are pure logistics—and if you're an idealist like me, the center of that just cannot hold.
In my dystopian Adderall vision (if you don't like it, GET YOUR OWN), over generations, the elites' blinders grow even more comprehensive and opaque, their focus even more monomaniacal and dogged, their product even more milquetoast and forgettable. They spiral inward, losing their dimensionality, churning out more dumb garbage more quickly than any garbage machine in history.
The normals, meanwhile, become hungrier and hungrier for genuine expression. Truly beautiful ideas—ideas built out of truth and experience, not efficiency—begin to sparkle, to catch the eye, to take root. With the advent of ever-simplified and internet-enabled methods of production, the normals no longer need the funding and support of the elites to transmit their work on a global scale. Stories unheard and marginalized for centuries blossom and spread. Even the elites, themselves long-starved for something real, something good (some part of them is still human, after all), begin to worship the work of the normals. Some of them, aping historical precedent, attempt to co-opt normal art forms and pretend like they do it better, but they are totally sucky at it. It never sticks. They are too far gone.
Art becomes the only meaningful currency. The idea that stylish mediocrity could supersede even the roughest-edged substance fades slowly into history like a dimly remembered dream. Though efficiency has lost its cache it retains its utility, and the elites flood the secretarial pools where they clack out memos for the distant descendants of Blue Ivy Carter. Somewhere, someone uses the phrase "reverse racism" or "reverse sexism" and it almost kind of actually applies. (Almost.) No unsuspecting human ever stumbles upon a Whitney or a Friends with Benefits episode ever again. The sentence for writing an Upworthy-style headline is hard labor, but the punishment is merely theoretical. Nobody ever does it. GEICO commercials are abolished. White people shut up sometimes. All bodies are bikini bodies. DYSTOPIA BECOMES UTOPIA.
I guess I owe you a thank you, Adderall. (But I still don't want to ingest you. #SLEEPY4LIFE)