Monday, 19 January 2009
Enhance to succeed.
When I was a student, there was something called 'Pro-Plus', which I think is still around now. These were concentrated caffeine tablets designed to keep you awake. As I found, they don't abolish sleep. They just put it off for a while. So you don't actually get any extra time and avoiding sleep does not improve productivity at all. I threw most of the pack away.
There are those who think all drugs should be legal. I'm on the fence on this one since I won't take them whether they're legal or not, but I don't see why others should be denied them, but then some are seriously easy to overdose with... so I'm not going to argue either side. Our government definitely does have a side in this, all main parties (as far as I am aware) insist that drugs will stay illegal.
Unless it suits them.
While hammering smokers and drinkers (and those who like their meals composed of mainly lard and salt), the Powers that Be seem to have no problem with allowing the use of memory-enhancing and concentration-improving drugs by the young.
"The reality is we're not always at our best. After being up at night looking after the kids or travelling, many people would love to have something to sharpen them up. It's not taboo to drink Red Bull. The principle with cognition enhancers is not so different." So says Barbara Sahakian, professor of clinical neuropsychology at Cambridge.
Sometimes I'm not at my best. That's why I always make sure I don't start work the day after I travel back from a holiday. That's why I don't slug down tons of booze the night before important meetings, or before delicate or risky work. I've also tried Red Bull, and the 500ml variant, Relentless. I drank three cans of that one night. I was awake until five in the morning and achieved nothing at all. I surfed like a demon but couldn't string a coherent sentence together. My chest felt like it was going to implode. I've never done that again.
Drinking Red Bull is not the same as taking performance-enhancing pills. it won't give you an edge over someone who knows their stuff. You can write what you know faster, but if you don't know it, you can't write it at all. Loading up on caffeine does not boost concentration or memory. It just makes you type faster.
These pills increase cognitive ability. Sounds good, eh? You can cram for that exam and pass it on the pills. But what's next? What happens when you're expected to perform to that level in real work? More pills?
Elvis ended up so dependent on drugs he needed a pill to get up in the morning and another to sleep at night. He said so himself. That's not recreational drug use. That's drug dependency, an altogether different thing. Elvis did that to himself, his choice, and anyone else who does that to themselves does it through their own choice too.
So why don't I say 'Ah, let them take the pills, it's their choice'? Simple. It won't be their choice.
When half the class is using performance enhancing drugs, the other half of the class will fall behind. In order to keep up (assuming the average intelligence of each half is roughly equal) the falling-behind half will have to take the drugs too.
Faced with a promotion opening at work, everyone eligible will want to perform at their best to give themselves the best chance of securing that promotion. If one uses performance enhancers, the others will feel obliged to do the same, just to keep the playing field level.
This is not like smoking, drinking or recreational drug use. Those things do not provide an advantage over your peers. In most cases, they are a disadvantage, and are the choice of the individual if they want to handicap themselves in certain kinds of work. These performance enhancers, just like those used in sports, give an individual an advantage over another individual who might be equal or even better at a task, without the drug. That means either everyone has to take the drugs, or nobody. The sports world took the 'nobody' option. This is veering towards the 'everyone' option.
The real problem comes when someone tries to do without the drug. Let's assume they're not addictive at all and you can stop taking them any time. When you do, your performance drops. Your boss notices. Your next evaluation takes you down a level. How to get back up? Take the drugs.
Peer pressure can start someone smoking. How much more intense is that pressure when your job prospects depend on the pills? Being continually sidelined at work and knowing there's an easy way to fix it, just behind that chemist's counter, goes far beyond mere peer pressure.
That enhanced performance will become the norm. Anyone not-enhanced will fall behind. Soon, we'll all take a pill to wake up and another to go to sleep.
Eventually, we'll all die on the toilet.
If they're going to put baby-teeth pictures on those tobacco packets, the least they could do is put a picture of Elvis's grave on these pills.