Accelerating Brainwaves

Devices promising to manage stress, sleep disorders and give relief from “exhausting” daily life are nothing new. Pinhole glasses with black perforated lenses, also known as stenopeic glasses, have been sold since the 1950s with claims to improve eyesight and “relax tired eyes.” More advanced devices entered the market following the growing amount of data and digitalization. Gadgets retailers Brookstone, Sharper Image, and SkyMall sell automated head massagers, sleep masks emitting photoluminous glows and air pressure-based tools that “rejuvenate” muscles and joints of hands that have performed too many repetitive motions on a mouse.

One by one these companies declared bankruptcy, and now lie in the hands of global firms investing in the development and distribution of more sophisticated machines sold online or through third party retailers. Brookstone and Sharper Image started as catalog businesses; the former, in 1965, was selling hard-to-find tools to hobbyists; the latter, in 1977, was selling jogging watches. Their stores became permanent presences in American malls in the 1980s and 1990s and then in airports and neuralgic urban crossroads. They were distinctive for allowing customers to play with any product before making a purchase…

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