In order to attend the most San Francisco boat party in San Francisco, I had to get up at 5:30 a.m.
The Daybreaker dance party was set to embark on a boat ride around the Bay promptly at 7:15 a.m., and if I missed the boat, I wouldn’t get a chance to get my brain zapped with a futuristic wearable or wave to a drone that accompanied the dance party as we sailed from the Bay Bridge to the water near Alcatraz.
Daybreakers are alcohol-free morning dance parties that began in New York in 2013, and have found their way to the Bay Area. Ambitious dancers start the day with a yoga class, and afterwards, DJs spin dance tracks while musicians play along—Friday morning’s serenade included an acoustic guitar and a saxophone. It was one giant playground for adults, though there were at least three elementary school-aged kids that looked like they were having the time of their lives.
These dance parties welcome everyone, but many people who go are “burners,” attendees of the Burning Man festival that kicks off at the end of the month and draws so many people from the Bay Area that San Francisco turns into a quaint little town for the first week of September.
Techies flock to Burning Man, so it’s only natural they would show up to a floating dance party at 7 o’clock in the morning. “Who will be joining us on the Playa?!” the DJ yelled. People wearing wayfarers, startup shirts, furry costumes, and space cat pants cheered. I received a message from a software engineer friend that asked, “Are you dancing on a boat right now?” He spotted me in the sea of people clamoring for coffee.
The space-themed dance party featured many costumed dancers in glitter, feathers, and face-paint, but dotted throughout were startup t-shirts, stereotypical hoodies, and backpacks marking the dancers who planned on Ubering to work when the boat docked. One woman wore a t-shirt repping Eaze, the weed delivery startup, under a voluptuously furry jacket.
Shocking my face with a wearable
Wearable startup Thync set up a testing site right next to the dance floor, and invited people to try out a device that’s supposed to help modify your mood by sending little electric shocks to the nerves in your head and your face. It can give you energy, “as if you just drank an espresso shot,” a Thync representative explained, or it can calm you down if you need to destress after a long day at work.
Skeptical of these claims, I decided to try it for myself. My colleague Aaron Sankin and I wandered over to the side of the boat where Thync employees in grey workout clothes strapped these devices on dancers’ heads. Considering it was a giant dance party, the Thync team was only distributing energy.
“That didn’t work at all, and I had it up to 100%,” said the guy sitting next to us in track jacket, who just took the strap off his face.
Unfazed, we continued on. “You need to wipe all the sweat off your head, or it’s not going to work,” the woman told me, underscoring how seriously I take morning dance parties.
Thyc explained that because the electric shocks are so weak, the device didn’t require FDA approval—though they did ask regulators. It’s considered a “lifestyle” product, not a “health” product. This deepened my skepticism a bit further.
The triangle-shaped device sticks to your forehead, and a thin strip of plastic connects it to another patch that sticks right behind your ear. Thync is connected to a smartphone via Bluetooth, and you can change the intensity of the tiny electric shocks by tapping a plus or minus sign. As soon as I turned it on, I could feel a tingly sensation as it stimulated the nerve endings in my head.
Imagine your foot fell asleep and you just poked it back to life. The sensation of blood rushing back into your body parts is exactly the same sensation you’ll feel wearing Thync—except it’s on your face. It certainly felt like something was happening, but it was difficult to discern what. We sat there for five minutes with the power cranked up to 70% feeling the weird tingles and anticipating changes to our mood.
After the time was up we took the straps off our faces. I sat for a moment wondering I felt any different, and decided that no, this did not make me feel like I just drank concentrated coffee. (When I drink espresso my energy levels are so high you probably don’t want to hang out with me until the caffeine wears off.)
The creators behind Thync are a team of brain scientists, and say that the science is sound. “We’re activating the right parts of your nervous system with very small amounts of electrical energy to activate nerves that are going into the brain and the brain itself so we can actually change your mental state,” Sumon Pal, Thync’s “Chief of Vibes,” told the Daily Dot back in January.
And yet, it’s hard to say what effect, if any, Thync had on my emotions. I was already happy and buzzed on dancing when we tested it out, and I didn’t feel much different before and after I stuck the thing to my face. But the tingly sensation was relatively enjoyable for those five short minutes. Sankin is not convinced Thync does anything at all.
As people got their brains zapped and giant jellyfish sculptures wandered through the dance floor, a DJI Phantom drone buzzed overhead, capturing everything on a GoPro affixed to the underside of the device. It was impossible to tell who was flying it, but it never strayed far from the party boat. People waved and clamored to make sure they were included in the video.
The boat docked at 9 a.m. as promised, and I counted at least half a dozen people who opened up Lyft and Uber apps to catch a ride home or to the office. “We’re all meeting at Dolores Park!” a man in an American Flag tank top screamed, with a group of people lucky enough to be free on a sunny Friday afternoon. Most people just gave him the side-eye, backpacks and yoga mats in hand.
Thync might not have made any discernible change to my emotions, but as we walked off a boat with a couple hundred other people who kicked their day off with a dance party before heading to code things or get brunch or meet with investors, I did feel much better than I felt when we walked on at 7 a.m.
Sometimes the only wearables you really need are dancing shoes.
Photo by Selena Larson