Steroids for the flighty-minded

An excellent and truly scary article by Margaret Talbot in the New Yorker about the use of neuroenhancers by people who are not ill. Which is comparable to recreational plastic surgery, which I don’t like either.

Is it just me, or is cheating seen as more and more normal and not to be punished or even held in contempt? When I catch students plagiarizing (which happens with a depressing frequency, partly because the tools for doing so have gotten so much better) their defense is more and more that this is normal, that you cannot expect them to come up with something original when everything is available out there on Google and Wikipedia. My retort is that I need to judge them on their own work, not others’, and that they therefore need to make it clear to me what they have done themselves and what they have found somewhere else. And their answer is that they put "Source: Wikipedia" at the bottom and therefore they are scot free, so there.

I would get angry if this wasn’t so depressing and so pointless. I am tempted to just fail them. Not for plagiarism – which entails disciplinary committees and all sorts of make-work. Rather an F for outright stupidity.

It is some consolation that creativity is one area where neuroenhancers don’t seem to work. But they might, as the article finds,  help these modern-day multitaskers concentrate on one specific task (hoping that it is a productive one and not, say, obsessively alphabetizing your library.) But neuroenhancers won’t make your ideas better – they won’t assist in spotting the prey, only in bringing it home. In the most dreary way possible:

Every era, it seems, has its own defining drug. Neuroenhancers are perfectly suited for the anxiety of white-collar competition in a floundering economy. And they have a synergistic relationship with our multiplying digital technologies: the more gadgets we own, the more distracted we become, and the more we need help in order to focus. The experience that neuroenhancement offers is not, for the most part, about opening the doors of perception, or about breaking the bonds of the self, or about experiencing a surge of genius. It’s about squeezing out an extra few hours to finish those sales figures when you’d really rather collapse into bed; getting a B instead of a B-minus on the final exam in a lecture class where you spent half your time texting; cramming for the G.R.E.s at night, because the information-industry job you got after college turned out to be deadening. Neuroenhancers don’t offer freedom. Rather, they facilitate a pinched, unromantic, grindingly efficient form of productivity.

If you find that tempting, be my guest. I am sure you can find directions via Google.

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