Friday, March 23, 2012

Technology in my modern hearing-impaired life

I'm not inherently antisocial. I can tolerate most people, like many people, and love a few people. On the most social of days, I'll gladly invite 50 people to my house, cook a ridiculous amount of food, dress up fancy, and try to be a life-of-the-party hostess, glass of wine in hand.

This week, I've been trying to ignore some sort of chest/head illness. When I got out of the house for 20 minutes, my hair was back in a looped ponytail but unbrushed, I wasn't even wearing the mascara that I consider a minimum for leaving the house, and I threw on an oversized hoodie to try to conceal the fact that I didn't have enough energy to pick out a bra. Classy.

Most days, my social energy runs somewhere between these two extremes. Part of the reason for this, I've decided recently, is that communicating with people takes a lot of effort. Communication requires some effort for anyone to be effective, but more so for someone with hearing loss. My hearing aids amplify sound to a "normal" level, but my brain still has to piece together what the sounds mean in a way that is much more exhausting than for someone with average hearing.

You know how difficult it is to squint in low light to see for a long time? Your eyes get tired the way that any other body part gets tired after long periods of use. My ears do the same thing. Loud restaurants, bars and parties are the worst. Everyday life is usually almost effortless, but more taxing if I'm tired or otherwise feeling unwell.

There is one thing that has been making my life easier all the time: technology.

  • My smartphone and data plan aren't cheap, but I am able to keep in touch with everyone via text message, chat or Facebook at any time. As a last resort, I can talk on the phone on it as well.
  • Many of my close family members read my blog, saving me from extra hours of "I'm sorry, what was that again?" on the phone.
  • At work, I communicate mostly by email and instant messaging. Face-to-face conversation is preferable and welcome, but many of the people I work with are remote. Fortunately, background noise is limited, and my desk phone has been amplified and is compatible with my hearing aids.
  • I refill prescriptions on my smartphone by scanning the barcode on the bottle. I never have to call the pharmacy.
  • My dentist, audiologist and chiropractor all conduct at least some communication and scheduling via email.
The world is increasingly accessible for hearing impaired people, not on purpose but as a result of technology. The 20 minutes I spent out of the house yesterday were based on which businesses would get me what I wanted without talking to anyone in my zombie-like state.
  • Weird fact: Lattes legitimately make me feel better when I'm ill. The QuikTrip by my house is new and has a touch-screen ordering system, letting me to get a large caramel latte with skim milk, an extra shot of espresso, and whipped cream without haggling with a barista. And for $3.60, it's surprisingly tasty.
  • I had three checks to deposit, but was not dressed appropriately to go into the bank and hate drive-through tellers. Bank of America ATMs let me deposit checks at the machine, confirm the amounts written on them, and print a receipt with images.
  • When I'm ill, I catch up on the movies I haven't watched in the past six months because I've been too busy skating. Netflix has several, but I still remember when none of their streaming movies were captioned, and it makes me grumpy. I don't want to sort through all of their titles to find ones that are subtitled. Blockbuster has people I don't want to talk to sometimes. Answer: Redbox. I returned The Muppets and The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, and picked up Rise of the Planet of the Apes, Bridesmaids and Friends With Benefits, in three minutes and walked out of Walgreens.
There are undoubtedly downsides to technology. However, I don't think we're headed toward a robot coup of society. If people get dumber or fatter or lazier, they would have done that anyway. While today's post has nothing to do with food (well, I ordered coffee) or skating (derby is inherently loud and low-tech), I would like to take these few minutes just to appreciate the role of technology in my modern life.

Plus, I happen to think my MacBook Air is pretty snazzy.

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