Starbucks’ Technological Alternative
For the majority of Americans who are sleep-deprived on a regular basis, a cup of coffee is not only a prerequisite for braving chilly Monday mornings, but also a panacea for the agony of keeping one’s eyelids open during those post-prandial afternoon meetings or precepts. Accordingly, at some point in life, the majority of Americans probably have also heard the haunting voice of conscience asking just how much caffeine the human body can tolerate if one is invested in making it past one’s 60’s. Thync, a 2015 innovation that compacts recent advances in the field of transcranial direct-current stimulation (tDCS) into a wearable headset, provides an alternative that serves the same energizing function as Starbucks’ trademark elixir of life while also appeasing the shrill inner voice of health-consciousness.
Thync, a 2015 technological innovation that compacts recent advances in the field of transcranial direct-current stimulation (tDCS) into a wearable headset, provides an alternative that serves the same energizing function as Starbuck’s trademark elixir of life while also appeasing one’s shrill inner voice of health-consciousness.
Using Thync, both mental states — energized and calm — are induced by different modulations of “vibes” over the course of a 20 minute session. Calm vibes induce physical relaxation, heightened awareness of one’s breathing and heart rate, detachment from anxiety and emotional turbulence, and sometimes even mild euphoria. On the other hand, energy vibes induce mental alertness, physical energy, excitement, and motivation. According to a journalist who participated in Thync’s first public trial run, a 20 minute energy session produced remarkably palpable effects: “Everything seems more finely etched, crisper. I notice more details in the world around me.”
Design-wise, Thync is comprised of a central module that contours to the temple, secured with two strips that attach along the orbital ridge and the base of the neck. The forehead and neck pieces both generate impulses, controlled by a smartphone program that the user can customize, that jolt neurons in these two sensitive regions of the brain.
The science behind Thync’s vibes has been optimized using over 40 years of research and thousands of experiments by neuroscientists and engineers. Neurosignaling — the regulation of neuron function via neuron-receptor stimulation — is achieved by applying currents through electrodes embedded in the attachment strips. Physiological response to alternating intensities and frequencies of vibes is tracked via heart rate, galvanic response, pupil dilation, and EEG, and is optimized over repeated animal trials.
The human nervous system is divided between the sympathetic and parasympathetic, which regulate “fight or flight” and “rest and digest” responses, respectively. Thync’s vibes function by shifting the activity of the nervous system toward either the sympathetic (energized), or the parasympathetic (calm) spectrum. Its algorithm builds upon earlier tDCS and transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation technology, both of which are techniques that have been sh0wn by the scientific community to induce tangible psychological and physiological change.
Thync’s efficient but also direct intervention to the brain is not without controversies. The research community has begun to question the ethics of cognitive enhancement and its potential to widen the social gap — Thync, after all, is a technology that predominantly appeals to and is accessible to the rich. Furthermore, although Thync does not induce physiological addiction, users have admitted that the transient phase of clarity and motivation they experience after a session is sufficiently appealing for them to crave more sessions. Is psychological addiction a side effect, and is it dangerous? Finally, is an ostensible utopia in which forehead-bound electrode strips become a regular fashion statement and in which heightened mental clarity permanently replaces anxiety and lassitude truly desirable, or perfect to the point of becoming sinister?
The field of tDCS, which Thync has made accessible to the public, is novel and hence open to many ethical ambiguities. Nevertheless, in a world where caffeine may be the most innocent way by which people attempt to achieve mental peace and concentration, Thync’s baggage-free effectiveness may prove a valuable asset. Or, at least, a glimmer of hope for every library-bound college student during the desperate mental marathon that is the late night before and the early morning of Dean’s Date.