Ritalin Nation

Richard DeGrandpre, Ritalin Nation: Rapid-Fire Culture and the Transformation of Human Consciousness, WW Norton, 1999.
The pragmatic message of this book is to stop giving Ritalin to kids. Studies consistently show it does not improve grades and is little more than a caffeine substitute that chemically fills in for the addictive velocity of television, computer games, and the rest of Western consumer culture. Classrooms are slow and plodding places and adaptive down-shifting is a skill that must be learned.

Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder is clearly not an organic dysfunction given the fluid nature of the definition and the inability to create a valid medical testing procedure. The basic problem is that American industrial society is obsessed with speed and the sensations of rapid experience. Western culture conceptualises time in ways different from the rest of the world and earlier eras. We adapt to it almost too easily because there are pleasures and advantages to such accelerated life. There is a price that we pay for it, true enough, but few are unwilling to pay it.

I most enjoyed the first half of the book, which shows the history and anthropology of the speeding up of Western culture. Clearly our culture does conceptualise time differently now. One could quibble over some of the linguistic ambiguities carried forward by Grandpre from anthropological jargon and formulas, but no reader could disagree with brute truth that 20th century life is faster and more hurried than other times and places. Grandpre explores it in larger and finer detail than I have seen elsewhere. -- Peter Rogerson, from Magonia Supplement 51, June 2004.

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