Thursday, April 23, 2009

Average is fine with me

A Galápagos Giant TortoiseImage via Wikipedia

It took me a couple of days to get through this article by Margaret Talbot on neuroenhancing drugs. I'm completely disturbed by this whole idea. One of the people interviewed, psychologist Paul McHugh, for the article expressed my feelings exactly: "Maybe it’s wrong-footed trying to fit people into the world, rather than trying to make the world a better place for people." Many of the people taking these drugs feel "behind" in some way; they feel like they're not working hard enough, fast enough, etc. In some cases, their companies are demanding this kind of work. In others, they're looking at their younger colleagues, those who don't have families and other obligations and who seem sharper, and want to keep up.

It seems to me that the definition of "best" kind of productivity is what's problematic here. Instead of letting people settle into work habits that work for them and their goals (while still meeting some basic company goals), the company defines productivity as creating more or working more. These drugs allow people to work longer hours, and maybe produce some better work as long as it doesn't require abstract thought and creativity.
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I've been feeling a little blah lately, feeling the pressure of the end of the semester and upcoming projects, but feeling that I need to still maintain balance despite the pressure. If I were one of the people in the article, I'd be taking a drug to help me focus. Instead, I'm using other methods of working on something for a set amount of time and then giving myself a break or a reward. I'm starting projects a long way out so that I don't have to put in long, crazy hours just before they're due. I feel like a tortoise in a world of hares. I feel conflicted about that, in part because I, too, recognize that I'm getting older, that I'm shifting careers into a space filled with younger, faster competitors. Part of me thinks I should be a hare. But I've done that before and it burned me out quickly, made me hate much of what I did.

I kind of feel sorry for those people who seem to be on a hamster wheel of their own making. Maybe they will accomplish amazing things, things I won't be able to because of the way I choose to work. But will they enjoy the journey? I suspect it's just a blur. And I'd like to have a clearer focus of that kind, the kind that can be brought by slowing down, observing and thinking.
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