Currently in development is a device with the aim of monitoring your moods. All you have to do is put it on your head and press some buttons on an app. This wearable device, named ‘Thync’ boasts it will“shift your state of mind” and help you “conquer life”.
Thync device in use. Image located from substance.com
Thync uses neurosignaling and “Thync Vibes” to moderate the mood of its users, giving them the choice of two states of mind: energised and focused for increased attention, or more relaxed for decreased stress, which they can select using an accompanying app. More specifically, the Thync device reportedly uses “modulated transcranial direct current stimulation” and a specific electronic or ultrasonic wavelength to signal new neural pathways in the brain. But I tend to be sceptical about these kinds of thing, and I will tell you why a bit later.
Thync app. Image located from qz.com
There has been a considerable increase in ultrasonic neuromodulation research in recent years. With more research comes more knowledge (hopefully), and projects such as the Thync device can only benefit from more empirical evidence to support its ambitious claims. A recent study has reportedly found that chronic pain can be alleviated through thermal ablation (surgical removal) of thalamic tissue by high-intensity focused ultrasound, while another study showed results indicating enhanced performance on sensory discrimination tasks through the use of transcranial focused ultrasound. Sounds notable, but I believe there is a disconcerting lack of peer-reviewed research specifically relating to this very device. Thync creators have admitted they have strayed slightly from the methods of these previous studies, using different electrodes and equipment, so with that must come specific research with precise and detailed empirical evidence. So, this is where I start to really become sceptical. While it may have some research to support its effectiveness, Thync has the very difficult challenge of overcoming a tricky placebo effect. Thync CEO Isy Goldwasser has stated that three of four people using Thync have a “definitely noticeable effect” when using the device, with one in four having a placebo effect. That may sound impressive, however I am curious as to whether they take into account the dollar placebo effect. You’ve bought your Thync device and iPhone app for a hefty price, it just has to work, right? What I am interested to see is how the creators of Thync overcome the “more costly, more effective” frame of mind. And I’m not the only one. I am also interested to see some research surrounding the side-effects of the device. Goldwasser states that the use of Thync does not result in the same harmful side-effects as pharmaceutical avenues, such as addiction and physical harm. This is good to hear, but they are truly empty promises without aforementioned evidence, and I (along with most people, surely) would love to be presented with something substantial before I would be happy seeing people on the street with Thync’s on their head. One has to wonder how a dependence on a device to make you feel more energised or relaxed is any less detrimental than a regular addiction. It’s food for thought anyway.
Basically what I’m trying to say is, while Thync is a novel idea, its overall effectiveness is questionable –to me at least– until stronger empirical evidence supports it. Are its users truly experiencing a neurological change, or is the idea of the Thync having a placebo effect? What kinds of implications result from a widespread distribution of this kind of device? I’m sceptical, and aware of these important questions, as I am sure those working on the Thync device are as well. I believe it is a creation whose inventors come with good intentions, and I have no real concerns about its use if evidence is provided to prove a) its effectiveness and b) its lack of side-effects. That being said, it doesn’t stop the cynical side of me from conjuring up some peculiar dystopia à la ‘Blade Runner’ (‘Do Androids…’) or ‘Brave New World’. But hey, that’s just me.
I am awake. In the dark and the cold I turn over to check my phone, idly charging beside me: 6am, time to wake up. A tremendous wave of anxiety rolls over me as I remember my appointment at the dentist, so I put on my Thync and dial up some modulated transcranial direct current stimulation. Soon afterwards, I’m feeling more at ease.
I wander around the living room and speak into my phone, “Remind me at 9am to call the dentist”. “Here’s your reminder for 9am, shall I create it?” responds my phone. “Yes.”
My stress has abated, the Thync is working. I stroll to the bus stop and around me are others with odd, cool smiles on their faces. Modulated transcranial direct current stimulation I would suspect. No one speaks, they only scroll through their phones. I find these advertisements are far less affective nowadays. I smile as I hop on the bus. I sit reading ‘Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep’ on my tablet, “Mood organ devices,” I scoff. “Ridiculous.” My phone buzzes in my pocket with a reminder to call the dentist. I confirm my appointment.
As I sit in the waiting room Igrowanxious. I wish I had my Thync with me right now. A quiet fear creeps into my head and I think I faintly hear something on the television about a pop-star in rehab, but I cannot be sure. I could do with some relief from this stress. Regrettably, I must go it alone and I have a panic attack at the thought of it.
By the time I’ve left the dentist’s office I’m crying and I rush home where my Thync waits for me, glowing in the corner of the room. I put it on and the modulated transcranial direct current stimulation rushes through me: pulsing, soothing. And as I gleefully watch upon my little plastic world, an idea as formerly innate as crying becomes so foreign to me.
Perhaps you didn’t know, but surrealistic art can be reassuring when contemplating your mortality.
If you’ve been on the lookout for new music, maybe you should check out Brisbane-based shoegaze group kigo: