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Power to the People

Published: Wednesday, June 4, 2014 11:02 a.m. CDT

Let’s be honest here — you need a jolt.

Yes, you manage to show up at the job every morning, and, sure, you’re able to spend most of the day in a semi-vertical position, and OK, you’re really good at looking like you’re actually working, but we know the truth, don’t we? You’re going through the motions. You’re cruising on empty. You’ve checked out.

Like I say — you need a jolt.

Now I am not talking about a jolt — or even a jot — of motivation. No new-age guru spouting self-realization claptrap is going to get you going. When I say jolt, I mean jolt. As in electricity. As in actual amperes of electrical current coursing through your brain.

Yes, I’m talking about transcranial direct current stimulation, or as we like to call it in brain-hacking circles, tDCS.

Since you are currently operating without current, I should explain that tDCS is a hot topic for people interested in improving mental performance without the use of surgery, drugs or vodka. According to Amy Standen, whose story on tDCS, “Hacking The Brain With Electricity: Don’t Try This At Home,” recently appeared on NPR’s “Morning Edition,” just slightly electrocuting your brain is “the latest craze for people who want to improve their mental performance: zapping the brain with electricity to make it sharper and more focused.”

Does it work? According to Standen, when the Air Force performed a performance test on pilots, “those who received tDCS performed 25 percent better on training tests than those who received no brain stimulation.”

With results like this, who wouldn’t want to stick their toe in an electric socket and jump-start their cranium?

This may all sound crazy, but it shouldn’t sound new. Electroshock therapy has been around since Roman days when electric torpedo fish were placed on a patient’s scalp as a cure for headaches. Today, deep-brain stimulation from surgically implanted electrodes is regularly used for the treatment of epilepsy and Parkinson’s.

What’s different about tDCS is that shocking the brain is no longer the sole property of fancy-schmancy neurosurgeons. It’s a do-it-yourself world, friend, and now, average folks, like thee and me, are frying our brains on our own, and we’re loving it!

If you’re wondering whom to thank for this shocking development, you can direct your gratitude toward the world’s nerds and gamers.

Their need to maximize their minimal mental capacity has lead to devices like the $249 Foc.us headset, a “Star Wars”-grade apparatus that “passes a small electric current (<2.05mA) through the prefrontal cortex of the wearer.”

(Lest you have any silly safety concerns, let me — and the Foc.us website — assure you that “the headset has been tested to all required regulatory standards including CE Safety standard EN60601-2-10: 2001 and EN60601-1: 2006.” And now that your childish qualms have been completely quashed, here’s the important news. It’s available in two colors: black and red.)

Even without the aid of electric stimulation, I think you can see where I’m going with this. If Air Force pilots, brain-hacking nerds and brain-dead gamers are using tDCS to improve their performance, how long do you think it will be before your managers start wiring your workstation to zap you into high-achievement mode all through the workday?

And why should they not? They already have you wired up for a computer and a telephone. Is it that big a stretch to imagine a geek from the IT department knocking on your cubicle wall for permission to turn your office chair into an electric chair?

Not every employee will embrace this opportunity, of course, but if you hesitate to turn yourself into a brain-crash dummy, you do risk being considered one of those marginal employees who lacks company spirit. (Certainly, it won’t be your supervisors who get themselves wired up. Before you can improve brain performance, you have to a brain to begin with.)

I say, go with the flow of electricity. In fact, get ahead of the trend. If you can’t afford a $249 Foc.us headset, you can create a reasonable facsimile by wearing an aluminum foil helmet with a big, thick power cord attached to five or six car batteries stacked up on your desk.

Whether this is safe or not, I have no idea, but it is likely to keep management far away from you, which should allow you to actually get some work done. And if you ask me, that’s the way to improve performance.

Bob Goldman was an advertising executive at a Fortune 500 company, but he finally wised up and opened Bob Goldman Financial Planning in Sausalito, California. He offers a virtual shoulder to cry on at bob@bgplanning.com. To find out more about Bob Goldman, and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate web page at www.creators.com.

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