Regarding the Human Resonance Recorder (HRR) is like trying to backmask an 8-track tape. It was the era of the Recording Craze, if there ever truly was such a fad. Advancing electronics were an increasing market force. That age is still with us. When the Human Resonance Recorder appeared, VCRs were still new. Exciting. And along came the camcorder. Taping everything was becoming a part of Western culture. You could record music, TV, family history. Why not record your thoughts and dreams? The Human Resonance Recorder suggested you could. It was to be the latest marvel of technology—for the late 70s. It was a product that appealed to human vanity. It could prove that even in sleep we are profound. Other species might argue that is when we are at our best. But they didn’t shop in department or electronic stores, who were looking for a new product to light up consumers. However, the HRR would eventually get shoved into the dark corner of America’s collective hall closet.
Electroencephalography (EEG). That word never appeared in the products advertising or manual. No wonder. However, that was the closest science the HRR was trying to suggest it used in order to excite consumers to spend real dollars on a machine said to be able to record dreams. It was sold in three colors: basic black, serene sapphire, or that most sleepy of colors, fire engine red. The name Human Resonance Recorder was chosen from a list by a focus group, assumed awake at the time. The theta symbol “Θ” was used as the product logo because it was the most likely of the five brain waves (Theta, Alpha, Beta, Gamma and Mu) to gratify consumers. Theta waves are found in states of meditation, creativity and relaxation. They are typical to young children. Who doesn’t want to think of themselves as young when shelling out for an adult toy like the HRR?
The HRR didn’t need to be based on science for it to sell. All it needed was a psychological hook to pull in consumer dollars. One like secrets, or better yet: secrets revealed. It almost seemed to be brilliant. Everyone would want the secret knowledge known only to a few brain researchers revealed in sophisticated labs. The HRR sold the promise of insight to everyone with enough cash or credit. Rumors were leaked it would replace lie detectors. Conspiracies could be exposed. True love could be known from data not just emotion. A person could show to the world that a machine confirmed they were as brilliant as they claimed to be. It would all be there in the data interpreted with the aid of a thin, easy to read manual written under the guidance of PhDs and MDs. Some of whom knew what the initials MIT stood for, even if they had never been there. Inner thoughts could be found out. Suspicions could be confirmed. If you could just get the person in question to wear a small cap with leads and wires woven into the cashmere. And if they didn’t? Wasn’t that proof itself? Knowledge is power. The truth will set you free. Just go down to the store and buy the HRR.
To support sales, an infomercial was produced. It was given out for free on VHS, BetaMax or filmstrip formats. It was to feature a contemporary icon of intellectual thought. But instead they hired actor Richard Boone. Evidently they originally wanted John Wayne. They should have gone with Ed McMahon. He was free, and already sleepy. Using Boone was an attempt to sell to the Science Fiction crowd as he was relatively fresh from the made for TV movie “The Last Dinosaur.” Hit your mental pause button and consider that. Before CGI, man vs. large, rubber, prehistoric beast was always good TV. However, the man who fought large, rubber, prehistoric beast did not exactly portray the man of tomorrow, or the contemporary consumer of in-home technology. But, since when did Science Fiction focus on technology or concerns of the future? Almost always. But as many salespeople will tell you: don’t get lost in important details. Boone narrated the short infomercial with a voice of rolling gravel and earthy indifference. He then went hunting for another role starring opposite someone who cared.
The Human Resonance Recorder found its way into homes across America. Some in Canada. None in Mexico. But at least one sale in Curacao. The HRR had been lauded to share holders as the triumph of international enterprise. It was designed in the US. Its components were made in Japan. The machines were assembled and shipped from Hong Kong. The triumph of international financial cooperation turned into a corporate game of where to place the blame for its failure. The distributor had better success with sales of the Home Trephining Kit, for which the entire board of directors were all successfully prosecuted. The HRR was marketed as an object of power fantasy made real by electronics. In reality it was an annoyance to operate and maintain. Unlike the machines whose success it was attempting to emulate, The HRR didn’t use magnetic tape for nice, neat play back. Instead, “recorded” thoughts and dreams were read from wavy lines on long paper strips. The strips were spooled and kept in attractive, leather bound volumes with matching plastic tubes inside to hold your cherished if indecipherable squiggles. They could be brought out for “readings” during cocktail parties, confessions, or for personal gratification. And after the election of Reagan, during the long, lonely hours of the imminent nuclear winter.
The promise of recording profound inner thoughts and prophetic dreams ran straight against the frustration of wrestling with paper spools that if not handled just right could become a mile long white ribbon. Fun for most cats, not for most humans. Some people figured out that cash register tape was cheaper. But without the graph, how could you be sure you knew what you were reading? A moot point as the graph lines were never actually a calibrated scale, anyway. And the ink. Wet. Black. And unforgiving. Those who wished to see the result of their nighttime visions scribbled across the potential floor streamers needed to ink the needles. This meant some less cleanly owners went to bed with black-stained fingers and woke to find Rorschach tests on their sheets, pajamas and sometimes a loved one’s face or other regions. Keeping the HRR’s “encephalo-cap” cap on an owner’s head was a challenge. The lead wires were gathered into a plastic tube that pulled the cap away even in the less athletic sleepers. Losing the caps at night meant the HRR seemed to record an owner’s time of death during sleep, which could be reviewed in the morning while sipping miraculously rejuvenating coffee. Losing the cap was especially troublesome if the machine was set to “life screening mode.” Then an alarm sounded to let you know the operator had died. Which people of the age group most attracted to the HRR rarely did. Unless struck by a heart attack from a sudden, loud alarm at night. The cap was also an unwanted heat source for customers in warm climates. Sweat could short out the leads and corroded wires. There wasn’t a service manual, nor replacement parts. The best service technician might be the local teenager would played with the crystal radio. But maybe he could learn your inner thoughts by making your HRR send signals to his/her crystal radio. That would of course be impossible. And so was sustaining sales of the HRR. Ultimately it is too bad the HRR with its long spools of paper did not come alongside that other, more useful invention: the recycle bin. The units themselves did make modern looking plant racks for the hard to embarrass.