my bionic ears

I’ve long been dependent on the eXistenZ pod style devices that upgrade my hearing from ‘generally rubbish’ to ‘a bit crap’.  In most environments I can fill in the gaps and muddle through with a little contextual guesswork and broad responses.  It’s the deadly combination of quiet or distant speakers dangling information-dense sentences just above the background buzz that has me reaching for my little pink friends.

Each one can cost as much as a top-end laptop and so I’ve frugally waited until they’ve both conked before I look at replacing them with the latest and greatest.  Now the second is buzzing its last squeak, I’ve been checking out how far the technology has shifted in the last decade.

No integrated iPhone apps as yet (although there is a free hearing test app – check yours!) but I can pair the aids to my iPhone via Bluetooth which opens up all sorts of possibilities.  There are also multicore processors and open-source, solar-rechargeable hearing aids for South Africans in the pipeline. Perhaps more interesting than these incremental technical improvements though is the stuff users are doing for themselves.

Blogs and forums have since emerged for users to scratch their own itch.  From hearing aid hacking:

We’re frustrated that we’re behind the technology curve and pay huge dollars/pounds/euros for good hearing aids that are unaware of and incompatible with anything resembling recent advances in consumer audio tech.

We’re willing to blaze our own path because no one will do it for us until they realize there is money in them thar hills.

There’s a nice transhumanist vibe to this.  I’ve just added Rebuilt: How Becoming Part Computer Made Me More Human to my reading list.  In the future, everyone will have something invisibly lodged in their ears.  Maybe not a plastic babel fish but something that augments their aural environment nonetheless.

One thought on “my bionic ears

  1. Definitely an interesting avenue to explore from a HCI perspective. I’m surprised we’ve not heard more activity in this space considering how ubiquitous, cheap and socially acceptable the hardware is.

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