When Enhancement Isn’t

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.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.