This post, originally published January 4, 2012, reminds readers that hearing problems and solutions are more nuanced than simply “making things louder” or even making sounds clearer. The message is well worth repeating in today’s market as PSAPs gain prominence and Hearables offer more auditory and non-auditory features.
By Sarinne Fox
Most people who consult an audiologist do so because they are having trouble hearing. They seek a diagnosis, advice, and, ultimately, technology that will enable them to hear more sound, more clearly.
At the same time, there is a large group of people who are looking for ways to reduce the sound they hear. Either they are exposed to loud sounds that threaten to harm their hearing, or they must deal with noise that is stressful and annoying–noise such as barking dogs or the din of construction work. They desperately seek ways to reduce or eliminate the noise at the source, or block it out in some way, or mitigate its effects.
On the surface, it would seem that the goals of these two groups are polar opposites of each other. Simplistically put, one group wants to hear more sound; the other wants to hear less. The first group invests in sound-amplifying devices, the second group in sound-blocking devices.
DIFFERENT PROBLEMS, COMMON GOALS
However, if we take a more discerning view, we can see that these two groups of people actually have quite similar goals. Once we differentiate between sounds that are wanted and sounds that are unwanted (“noise”), we can see that both groups are pursuing ways to gain better control over what they hear and what they don’t. Both seek to be able to hear more of the useful, wanted sound, and, at the same time, hear less of the unwanted sound.
The hearing aids used by the first group don’t amplify all sound indiscriminately; they are tuned to amplify sounds selectively based on their frequency or the direction of their source. They can even identify and reduce background noises that interfere with the desired sounds. And the devices and techniques used by the second group that give them the greatest satisfaction are those that eliminate or filter out the noise, while allowing desired sounds to be heard.
For both groups, the objective is to increase the ratio of wanted sound to (unwanted) noise. This objective reveals a genuine commonality between the two groups. Is that the end of the analysis? I believe we can go further.
PRESERVING HUMAN CONNECTIONS
There is a deeper sense in which the two groups share a common goal. One of the tragedies of hearing loss, if untreated, is the feeling of separation from other people that it causes, since so much of our interpersonal communication, and hence our connection with each other, relies on our ability to hear. Similarly, among those troubled by excessive noise, much of their suffering stems from the social barriers that noise creates between people.
This is both a primary and a secondary effect: As a primary effect, too much noise makes it nearly impossible to communicate with others using normal speech. When conversation is shouted, all nuance and subtlety are lost. As a secondary effect, the ongoing stress, irritation, and even aggression that noise induces can do lasting damage to our positive ties to other people, especially those we care about the most.
For both groups, then, groups that seemed so different at first, there is an underlying goal motivating each to find solutions to the distinct problems they face. And this goal is one that is fundamental to our very humanity: to maintain and strengthen positive connections with other people.
When we offer ways to amplify sound that is meaningful, and ways to reduce noise that is unwanted, we are enabling people to remain in healthy connection with their fellow human beings. That’s a worthy purpose indeed!
Sarinne Fox is an engineer by profession and a performing musician by avocation. “Through music,” she says, “I enjoy sharing with others the joys of good sound.” Through her web site, NoiseHelp.com, she adds, “I aim to help people deal with ‘bad sound’ in their lives.”
Her interest in noise arises in part from an abnormal sensitivity to certain sound frequencies that she developed after “a thoughtless moment around firecrackers” in her youth. From her research into the subject, she has concluded that noise is a serious cause of stress for many people, one that usually goes unrecognized. Thus, she believes, “Every little bit we can do to reduce noise eliminates some of that stress, making more room for life’s joys and pleasures. I want to make it easier for the next person who is facing any kind of noise problem to find the right solution.”