Futures Rambling # 91

By Laurie Aznavoorian

I met my love by the gas works wall. Dreamed a dream by the old canal. Kissed a girl by the factory wall. Dirty old town Dirty old town

This lyric from the Pogues’ song ‘Dirty Old Town’ is the unofficial anthem of Dublin and can be heard bellowing out of the many pubs in the Temple Bar area. It was written by Ewan MacColl and is in fact about Salford, Greater Manchester England, not Dublin. Never the less after spending several weeks in Dublin I understand why it’s been adopted, Dublin is a dirty old town.

In the four block walk from my vanilla short stay apartment to the office it is necessary to traverse a veritable minefield of dog poo that’s been left on the sidewalk for the rain to wash away. And in the tiny playground nestled between my apartment block and the headquarters of Facebook, dog owners allow their pets to defecate in the very same very sand pit that the tech company’s employee’s children play in.

Revolting as it sounds, dog poo is the least of my grievances regarding that area of Dublin, what is more annoying is the loud metallic cha ching sound that echoes through the buildings every time a car drives over a grate in the street just near the Bord Gais Theater that’s not properly secured. It’s a block away and the apartment’s double glazed windows are tightly closed, still it’s impossible to ignore cha ching, cha ching, cha ching that goes on all day and night.

It’s a wonder the people at Facebook get anything done at all! Perhaps that is why they spend so much time out front smoking and work all night, oh wait they don’t work all night, they just leave their lights on all night. Clearly when you’re only paying 12.5% corporate tax, the lowest rate in the developed world, you can afford to let your electricity bill run high.

If employees at Facebook are anything like most of us, they don’t need cha ching, cha ching to distract them when there are myriad distractions right at their fingertips: work and personal e-mails, text messages, social media, phone calls, coworkers wanting to catch up for a wee gossip, micromanaging supervisors, people talking on mobile phones, copy machines, printers, the elevator…

No surprise research has shown distractions have a damaging effect on productivity and work safety, not to mention one’s mood. Distractions lead to poor performance which adds to one’s stress levels, this sends workers on a downward spiral. Michigan State University recently published findings of a study they did in the Journal of Experimental Psychology that found interruptions as short as three seconds double the chance of an employee making a mistake. It’s okay when your mistake is putting a pickle on a burger, not so good when you’re in air traffic control.

Unfortunately, a challenge we have with distractions in the contemporary workplace is that they’re sometimes a necessary manifestation of encouraging collaboration and mentoring. When a senior employee passes on knowledge it benefits the organization, but does little for that person’s personal productivity. Experts also suggest that workplace distraction can also be a good thing because they keep us from getting burnt out.

Distractions are on the rise, there are two theories why. The first is that our society is designed to distract with all of its high-tech gizmos, the second has to do with our souls being troubled, we therefore can’t stand to be alone for a second and need the distraction of cat videos to heal ourselves.

The philosopher Matthew Crawford has written a new book titled “The World Beyond Your Head: Becoming an Individual in an Age of Distraction” in it he recommends we re-engage with reality and the physical world by participating in extreme or highly focused activities such as motorcycle racing and playing ice hockey. He’s dedicated the final chapter of the book to interacting with a firm of organ makers to retain the ‘attentional commons’.

If donning skates and playing a game of ice hockey is not your bag you might want to consider neuroenhancers. These have been called our eras defining drug. You will get them from one of your pals with ADHD – have them share their Adderall or Ritalin with you, assuming you’re normal it will improve cognitive function. University students love this because they can party like its 1999 and still be a great student.

Before you assume this is a practice of lesser institutions check out the BoredAtPenn site, or go to BoredAtHarvard for stunning testimonials “I don’t want to be a pusher or start people on something bad, but Adderall is AMAZING.” The University of Michigan’s Substance Abuse Research Center reported that in the previous year 4.1 % of American undergrads had taken these off-label drugs. Other research suggests the rates are even higher.

Some people like Anjan Chatterjee a neurologist at the University of Pennsylvania is very concerned about where this is all going. He has coined the term “cosmetic neurology” to describe the practice of taking drugs developed for medical conditions to strengthen ordinary cognition, sadly he believes the horse has already bolted and that this will become as acceptable as cosmetic surgery

If the recent poll in the scientific journal Nature that explored whether taking drugs like Ritalin to sharpen focus, concentration and memory was acceptable is any indication, we’re in trouble. One out of five believed it was just fine even if there were side effects, 69% believed it was an acceptable risk! So we had better watch out for organizations who might use this to get a leg up. Doping is not limited to bicycle riders anymore.

 

Sources:

Aamna, Mohdan, “Tech giants, stay in Ireland and pay even less in corporate tax” – Quartz, October 14, 2015

Brennan, Andrew; Minimising the impact of disruptions in the workplace; Andrew Brennan Blog, February 18, 2013

Crawford, Matthew; The World Beyond Your Head: Becoming an Individual in an Age of Distraction, Farrar, Straus & Giroux, June 16, 2015

Rothman Joshua; A New Theory of Distraction; The New Yorker, June 16, 2015

Smith, Jacquelyn; How To Avoid Distractions In The Workplace; Forbes; June 20, 2013

Talbot, Margaret; Brain Gain – The Underground World of “Neuroenhancing” Drugs; The New Yorker, April 27, 2009