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Instrumental Intimacy

EEG Wearables and Neuroscientific Control

Melissa M. Littlefield

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A critical examination of the rise of wearable EEG monitors.

From Fitbits to GPS trackers, wearables promise to help us understand and improve ourselves in quantified ways. We count our steps, track our location, and even monitor our brain waves as we strive to achieve better fitness, clearer direction, or a more focused mind. But why do we rely on wearables to learn about ourselves? In Instrumental Intimacy, Melissa M. Littlefield questions our desire for mechanistic guidance by examining brain-based EEG wearables that promise to improve sleep, relationships, self-knowledge, and learning.

Litt…

A critical examination of the rise of wearable EEG monitors.

From Fitbits to GPS trackers, wearables promise to help us understand and improve ourselves in quantified ways. We count our steps, track our location, and even monitor our brain waves as we strive to achieve better fitness, clearer direction, or a more focused mind. But why do we rely on wearables to learn about ourselves? In Instrumental Intimacy, Melissa M. Littlefield questions our desire for mechanistic guidance by examining brain-based EEG wearables that promise to improve sleep, relationships, self-knowledge, and learning.

Littlefield focuses specifically on EEGs’ transition out of the laboratory and into the hands of consumers. While other brain-imaging technologies (such as MRI, PET, and MEG) are used only in specialized laboratories, human electroencephalography (a.k.a. EEG) is embedded in portable, user-friendly devices. These direct-to-consumer wearables visualize brain activity as accessible data, and many offer the promise of self-optimization.

Littlefield’s illuminating book brings the histories of EEG to bear on the contemporary development of EEG wearables via case studies of EEG-based sleep aids, bio-mapping instruments, fashionable surveillance tools, and athletic training devices. The author argues that, over the past century, applied uses of EEG helped to create new states of mind to be monitored and manipulated, as well as discourses about the existence of brain waves and their viability as a tool for brain optimization. By contextualizing and analyzing EEG wearables, Instrumental Intimacy provides a crucial intervention in an emergent consumer market and in the scholarly fields of STS, critical neuroscience, and the history of technology.

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Instrumental Intimacy

Melissa M. Littlefield

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Reviews

Offering insights into neuroscience, wearable technologies, self-tracking, and personhood in the twenty-first century, Littlefield provides a clear and engaging account of the fascinating and understudied world of EEG technology.

In a cultural moment when people are called upon to 'work out' their brains, Littlefield’s Instrumental Intimacy questions our philosophy of visualization and control. Examining wearable gadgets that claim to visualize brain activity, her study is as smart in its analysis of contemporary culture as in its narratives of historical context.

Beautifully written and closely argued, Instrumental Intimacy interrogates (imaginaries of) the past, present, and future of EEG. Intersecting analyses of cultures of self-tracking with those of the significance of the brain and its representational technologies, Littlefield challenges us to look anew at EEG—and the selves we craft with it.

About

Book Details

Publication Date
Status
Available
Trim Size
6
x
9
Pages
176
ISBN
9781421424651
Illustration Description
12 halftones
Table of Contents

List of Figures
Acknowledgments
Introduction
1. Public Displays of Arousal
2. In the Zone
3. ‘Sleeping seems to be such a natural thing’
4. Neurogeography and the City
Conclusion
Notes
References
Index

Author Bio
Featured Contributor

Melissa M. Littlefield

Melissa M. Littlefield is an associate professor of English and an associate professor of kinesiology and community health at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign. She is the author of The Lying Brain: Lie Detection in Science and Science Fiction and the coeditor of The Neuroscientific Turn: Transdisciplinarity in the Age of the Brain.