I see that it was about a year ago that I first tried out Bose Hearphones: directional sound-canceling/amplifying earbuds. Specifically, you can use them to turn up the volume on the world around you, and/or to cancel sound coming from certain directions. I most often have them set so that sound from in front of me is amplified, and sound from behind me and to my sides is canceled; that makes it much easier for me to hear the people I’m talking with when we’re in a loud environment.
I still like the Hearphones. They’re imperfect in a variety of ways, but they’re often pretty useful.
So if you see me in a social situation wearing black earbuds connected to a sort of black plastic collar, I’m not listening to music; I’m trying to participate more fully in social interaction.
Some of the ways in which the device is imperfect:
- I assume that it’s not as good as a hearing aid at improving my hearing.
- You can’t tune the angle in which it amplifies sound; there are only three fixed options. (A) Cancel all sound in all directions; (B) Cancel all sound behind you, in a 180-degree angle; or (C) Cancel all sound in about a 320-degree angle, letting you amplify sound from a 40ish-degree-angle wedge in front of you. (Option C is the one that I mostly use.) So even if you’re talking with only one person, you can’t narrow the angle to focus specifically on them.
- The amplification is directional, so if you’re talking with someone and there are loud people beyond them, you’ll also pick up the people beyond them.
- Sound bounces, so (for example) if you’re facing a wall, you’ll pick up some sound from all around the room that’s bouncing off the wall.
- It amplifies my own voice in my ears, so if I’m not careful, I end up speaking even more quietly than usual, which makes it extra-hard for other people to hear me.
But even so, using them lets me participate in some social situations where I’ve previously been unable to hear anything that anyone was saying.