Forrest Cameranesi, Geek of All Trades

Forgotten How To Hear

A sad analogy for the gifted, 2011.

Imagine a world where, for whatever reason, people lose their hearing much more rapidly than in reality, and thus most people are deaf by adulthood. As a consequence of this, there is no consideration for the amount of noise made by anything, as most adults are blissfully unaware of it, which further contributes to early hearing loss in the children who can still hear. Which is the original cause, the deafness or the noise, is a chicken-and-egg question.

Due to fortunes of nature and nurture, some people are either born with more sensitive hearing and thus avoid the damaging noise more readily than their peers, or they are luckily sheltered from it through good upbringing or simple good fortune. Some such people thus reach adulthood with much of their hearing still intact. But the majority of adults consider hearing things a childish distraction; becoming deaf to the noise is considered a mark of maturity and a normal part of growing up, and those who can still hear are seen as disfunctionally hypersensitive to things "normal" (deaf) people get by just fine ignoring. Adults, most having been deaf for so many generations, are scarcely even aware anymore of the fact that children are hearing things the adults have no perception of.

Consequentely, many "normal" adults consider the abilities of the gifted few adults who can still hear to be miraculous; the ability to tell what's going on around and even behind themselves without looking directly at it, or even discern something about what's happening through solid walls! They attribute these powers, half-seriously in their ignorant curiosity, to some kind of powerful sight, "eyes in the back of the head" or "x-ray vision", as the deaf majority rely entirely on sight to get by and can scarcely comprehend (or remember) that there is another means to accomplish such feats, one which they once had and lost.

The majority are so dependent on sight that the more successful of them have taken to thrashing their heads about frantically, looking all around them in brief glances all the time, to increase the breadth of their perception, though at the sacrifice of depth. The ability to do so effectively is considered a hallmark of an able and productive person. In contrast, those few who can hear appear, to the "productive" among the deaf, to be simply staring at something or other, or worse, off into space, and ignoring anything that may be going on around them. They are sometimes harshly criticised for "not looking hard enough", despite the fact that they, with functional hearing, naturally perceive more by holding their heads still and listening, than the hard-lookers do by thrashing their heads about.

Unfortunately as the hearing adults make their way into the working world, they are often forced more and more into the noisy environment carelessly produced by those who cannot hear, and gradually become deaf themselves. They may protest the noise and attempt to improve things by making them less loud, but that is too often considered a useless inefficiency -- nobody else can hear any noise, so why should any effort be wasted making things quiet for your sake? Get back to work and keep thrashing your head, stop staring into space like that.

And as they gradually go deaf themselves, the hearing-gifted adults, unlike those who "naturally" lost their hearing in childhood, are keenly aware of what is happening to them. Their peers and superiors may praise them for finally learning to tune out the noise and focus on what's in front of their eyes, and many may rationalize and agree that they have picked up a "skill" as their ears go numb and they learn to thrash their heads like "professionals"; but somewhere deep inside, they will still remember what it was like to perceive more than just what's right in front of you, to sit back and take in all your surroundings at once at ease without any head-thrashing.

If you understand this analogy, congratulations, you can still "hear".