the uses of drugs

media, tech

For the end of the semester I like to talk about Deviance and Drugs. It’s a good way to end on a high note. I have some shtick proposing that heroin should be legalized and how I’m an addict myself, of caffeine. But in discussing it with Ben we came upon the ‘uses’ of drugs, which would be a nice connection with Herb Gans’ ‘The Uses of Poverty.’ Ben pointed me to Doug Rushkoff’s book, Cyberia, wherein he illustrates how the computing innovations of the 90s were largely fueled by  MDMA. In an article, ‘E: Prescription For Cultural Renaissance,’ he describes a three-stage process of 1.) breaking down inhibitions, 2.) developing an empathy towards others’ emotional needs, and 3.) nurturing a sense of communal, non-verbal communication. As Ben explained, the thinking behind this is that the drug does different things, manifests itself in different subcultures and, for Rushkoff, as the “fledgling Silicon Alley firms became dependent on Grateful Deadheads and other psychedelics users as programmers, cyberculture became known as a ‘cyberdelic’ movement.” The entire second part of Cyberia, Drugs: The Substances of Designer Reality, is available here. Despite making note of Howard Rheingold’s fashion sense, I have never thought of this before.

Now those shirts and jackets make sense

Coffee as a substance is not without its historical moment as well. Peter Stallybrass, in The Politics and Poetics of Transgression, notes that coffee served as a powerful component matched with the rise of capitalism. Perhaps ‘Spirit’ isn’t the right word. He quotes an 18th Century James Howell:

’tis found already that this coffee-drink hath caused a greater sobriety among the nations… Whereas formerly apprentices and clerks, with others, used to take the morning draught with Ale, Beer, or Wine, which by the dizziness they cause the brain made many unfit for business, they use now to play the good fellow in this wakeful and civil drink. (1986: 97).