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On Technological Addiction: Active Noise Cancellation

July 5th, 2020 No comments

From a certain perspective, humanity has largely already become cyborgs: not only do we augment our flawed biological senses with corrective technological ones — for example, eyeglasses, hearing aids, pacemakers, and so on — but we also constantly carry with us so-called “smart” devices like watches, phones, and tablets, that allow us to easily stay connected to others and instantly access the entire breadth of human knowledge at our fingertips. In a way, these “smart” devices have become somewhat of an external secondary brain of sorts. (Reminiscent of the Ood of Doctor Who lore, though in a less drastic way.)

It’s easy to argue that we can, and have, become addicted to these technologies for our daily lives. For some — like corrective eyeglasses, hearing aids, and pacemakers — the addiction is clear: without constant use of these technologies, day-to-day life would be very difficult or perhaps impossible. But the addiction to phones and tablets and the rest is not always as visible, nor are the withdrawal effects from prolonged non-use of them. Moreover, there are other gadgets we use regularly whose addictive effects are not so obvious at all. For example, consider ANC (active noise cancellation).

I was working on a “1 Year Later”-style review draft of my Bose Noise-Cancelling Headphone 700 when I came upon an interesting conclusion: I find myself extremely more sensitive to background noise now than I ever used to be.

For instance, a few years ago, I wouldn’t have been bothered by the fireworks, sometimes loud music, and general noises of my neighborhood on a celebratory night like tonight. These were just things I lived with, simply as facts of life. Same with the hum of my refrigerator or the repetitive spinning noise of my bedroom’s fan: These were not sounds that were extraordinarily annoying; they simply existed near me as unremarkable background.

But now, after wearing Bose noise-cancelling headphones for nearly several hours daily for the better part of three years, I find that I am incredibly sensitive to these noises, to the point where it often gives me a headache to let them remain heard for any extended periods of time.

Being able to quite literally switch off the world around me and choose not to hear all of these disruptions has been an amazing boon to my work, hobby projects, and games, and lets me relax so much more deeply when listening to podcasts while doing chores and whatnot. (Truthfully, I probably would have been a more diligent and productive student in college if I had these. But it would also have meant an entire week’s pay at that time…)

And now, I find that when I’m not wearing my Bose headphones, that same background noise of my neighborhood — when it happens — is extremely irksome and makes it difficult sometimes even to hear my own thoughts. It has come to such an extreme at times that in the pre-pandemic era, I would carry my Bose headphones with me to family gatherings and such because I knew just the intensity of so many conversations ongoing could be too raucous for me, and I would need to step away for a few minutes of silence.

I suppose in retrospect this conclusion should have been an obvious one, especially for a transhumanist like myself: Of course, my brain has probably adapted to that near-silence as a new “default” background noise level. In short, I’ve developed an addiction to the technology of ANC; and in the same vane, I experience a sort of technological withdrawal by not using it.

Does anyone else that regularly uses noise-cancelling/isolating headphones find themselves similarly addicted to their benefit?