After dark

It was an ordinary Friday night out in Edinburgh’s Grassmarket, except that the two guys at the front of the group in the picture below are wearing brain-monitoring EEG headsets. The occasion was a workshop organised by Dorothea Kalogianni to coincide with a talk by visiting fellow Carlo Ratti, who runs the MIT Senseable City Lab.

GrassmarketData from the Epoc Emotiv headsets was then used in three different projects exploring the use of EEG data in urban environments.

The projects put me in mind of the common observation, backed up by research in urban geography, that “negotiating the city is a very different proposition in the hours of darkness, potentially involving heightened sensations of anxiety and excitement” (120). That quote is from an article by Phil Hubbard.

In a more recent article, Ilse van Liempt and colleagues observe that the night generates a particular atmosphere, conducive to certain activities and emotions — even criminal acts, clandestine rendezvous, rebellion and unconventional behaviour.

The idea of “going out” at night is clearly an important social practice. Most of us don’t work at night, and so it’s associated with leisure. To “go out” is to act contrary to the instinct to retreat to the confines of hearth and home (or television). It’s a sign of sophistication and urbanity.

Getting out

We don’t venture into deserted woods and fields at night, but to go out is to affirm our trust in the bright lights of the city, the police service, transportation and other trappings of sophisticated, civilized urban life. It’s also to enjoy the company of kindred spirits and strangers with whom we “share the night” (2). There’s a lot of night at this time of year and this latitude, and going out is a way of extending the day and keeping cheerful until the days lengthen.

What did the workshop participants do with the EEG data? They fed it into Grasshopper and Arduino controlled actuators — for further explanation at another time.



  • Hubbard, Phil. 2005. The geographies of ‘going out’: Emotion and embodiment in the evening economy. In J. Davidson, L. Bondi, and M. Smith (eds.), Emotional Geographies: 117-134. Aldershot, England: Ashgate.
  • van Liempt, Ilse, Irina van Aalst, and Tim Schwanen. 2014. Introduction: Geographies of the urban night. Urban Studies0042098014552933.


  • Carlo Ratti’s visit was organised by Fabrizio Gesuelli.



  1. It was really a great experience with Carlo Ratti and all the other people that have participated in this two-day event. Thanks for the mention Richard, I would add my personal thanks to Dorothea Kalogianni for having organised the workshop!

    1. Great initiative Fabrizio. Thanks for getting it going. Clockwise from the left: Richard (with camera), Fabrizio, Dorothea, Graham, Pierre, Carlo.

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