I may not be the sharpest tool in the box, but I used to be able to introduce myself at business meetings without forgetting my own name, I didn’t always arrive home from a shopping trip to realize that I’d left my purchases at the till, and I definitely knew the first names of my children rather than calling them after the dog, then the cat, then the tortoise. “Really?” said Charlie (I’ve remembered it now), “Donatello is easier to remember than me?” Apparently, yes. With the release of Halo, a gadget designed to electrify brains into performing better, it felt like the time had arrived for me to address this.
Halo headphones are mostly used to hone muscle memory for sportspeople. Let me be very clear about this—I am not a sportspeople, and my problem isn’t dementia, Alzheimer’s, or stupidity—mine are the symptoms of modern Brain Fog. I’m tempted to blame menopausal hormones destroyed by the wee in our tap water, the chemicals in our Pringles, and Donald Trump (always)—but on deeper analysis, I’m convinced it’s largely caused by information overload, the Catch-22 of the technology era. We just weren’t meant to retain this much shizzle.
We’ve created a brilliant monster, but it’s destroying us: in the last decade alone I’ve absorbed the box sets of Killing Eve, Line of Duty, and Girls, three delightful, pointless seasons of Love Island, 100 books, 200 dodgy plays, 3,000 movies, 500,000 newspaper articles, a million adverts, two million tweets, three million Instagram posts, half a million conversations with the 10k people I’ve met in the last few decades, and at least 400 e-mails asking if I would like a penis enlargement. THERE ISN’T ANY MORE ROOM.
And the problem seems to be growing … ask erstwhile Tory leader candidate Jeremy Hunt, who publicly forgot his wife’s nationality, or BBC presenter Victoria Derbyshire, who forgot the H in Jeremy’s surname and mistook it for a C.
I asked the Twittersphere for their thoughts here and was inundated … Many people said they had a history of Brain Fog; they just couldn’t quite remember what it was. I felt for the English teacher who’d misplaced the name of a play’s protagonist while she was teaching—turned out it was Macbeth. I empathized with the lady who drove her children to school and then drove home again with the kids still in the car. And I recognized the frustration of the man who randomly lost his words so that conversation had become a game of charades: “The box in the corner with the nasty people in it … aka ‘The TV.’”
But the wider worry is the feeling we’re no longer piloting our own lives. BBC presenter Jo Whiley told me, “It’s especially nerve-racking when presenting a live radio show … not remembering the name of the person I’m interviewing, what song I’ve just played, or sometimes even who I am.” Ultimately it causes us to withdraw, it makes us smaller—information is crushing our brains. Someone may well be in charge of mine, but I fear it’s no longer always me.
There aren’t many solutions in sight, but the medical profession agrees that when muscle memory is improved, other forms of memory also benefit. You don’t hear of athletes walking the dog without taking the dog, or footballers going into the showers still wearing their glasses. So … back to the Halo. It’s based on a technology originally developed to treat epilepsy. The headphones shock the brain into a temporary state of “hyperlearning” that consequently speeds up our ability to develop muscle memory.
Not wanting to follow in the footsteps of @haru23, who went to the doctor to discuss her Brain Fog but then forgot to mention it, I have road tested the machine on behalf of us all. Having dampened the pads on the Halo, you wear them for 20 minutes before exercising or training. The toothy spikes are foam and don’t actually dig into your skull; they allow electronic impulses to artificially excite the brain tissue. The claim is that your brain will start to “create neural pathways” for whatever activity you do directly after it, or something similar. Halo Neuroscience, the company that makes the headphones, also claims it can help musicians.
I followed my Halo session one day with a piano lesson and nobody complained about the noise (a first), managed a four-minute plank after another, and for the first time in weeks called my son Jake “Jake” instead of “Posy.” I can’t tell you yet if it’s hugely benefiting my general brain capacity, because only this morning I forgot which letter on my automatic car was the one for Drive. It turns out it’s D. But at this stage I will try any port in a … you know … big weather-condition thing. And making the brain more “plastic” while learning a new skill means that you might at least remember which new skill it was you were trying to learn. In the meantime, if you’re foggy, you’re not alone—whatever your name is.
Emma Freud is a writer and columnist based in London.