Here are a few responses (my comments are in italics) to the Living Without Sound mini-workshop, anonymized as per participant request. All participants had normal hearing. This second reply was from a female graduate student in engineering, this one in her early twenties. My commentary is in italics.
Mel, wouldn't it be better to be literate if you can't hear though? Like, wouldn't online chatting actually be fantastic?
Oh heck yeah. I can't tell you how freakin' amazing it was when I first entered a chatroom in middle school and followed a conversation. It was some stupid Star Wars chatroom, but I didn't care! I was probably 13 or 14 at the time and I had never been able to overhear a group discussion before, let alone chime in! I literally didn't know how to navigate a group conversation -- how do you signal that you want to speak, pick up on cues that someone may be ending or starting so you don't interrupt (but don't miss your chance to say something), how do you change topics or pay attention to moods and conversational dynamics between multiple members...
I picked these things up first online, and gradually started doing it in class more and more, with lots of faking strategies. (I was still learning by the time I got to college, but passably so -- so I don't know if anyone noticed by then. However, it's important to note that I had really great reading skills and chose to mainstream; not everyone does. Literacy levels for deaf adults (in the USA, anyway) are far lower than for hearing adults -- 4th grade level vs 8th grade. Some people have ASL as their native language. I have... written English, as far as I can tell.
So I don't know if this counts, I didn't actually do the activity as listed but something happened over vacation that may have accidentally simulated the activity? I got a crap-ton of seawater in my ear, and maybe I also was partially sick to begin with, I have no idea what exactly happened, but for half a day I felt almost completely deaf in one ear, and partially deaf in the other ear. The result was that I could hear if a person was within 2 feet of me and talking directly into my good ear, but otherwise I was oblivious they'd even said anything. (A tragedy when a very well-built surfer tried to talk to me and I completely ignored him...)
Things I did during this period:
My parents talk to each other a lot in their [non-English native language], and usually with a bit of effort I can understand them, but with the reduced hearing I completely stopped trying. The effort went up a lot... I had to ask them to repeat, which if people aren't talking to you they generally aren't happy to do so, and once you miss a little, you miss everything. I can definitely see how that can make parties hard, since in parties you have to be constantly turned on even if you can hear, observing and listening to everything at once.
Yep. My parents speak a local Chinese dialect (Fookien) to each other, and my brother picked it up -- but I never did. Too hard, unless it's information you need to be understanding (which is why the Fookien phrases I know are almost entirely imperatives for small children, like "come and eat!" or "sit down!" or "go take a bath and brush your teeth!")
Around people I didn't notice their chatter as much. Like, in the airport terminal, I didn't even realize people were talking unless they were talking directly at me, when usually I eavesdrop as a hobby.
On the up side, it's fantastic for concentration sometimes.On the down side, sometimes you sit inside that concentration bubble and miss the announcement that your flight has changed gates, which ends up with a missed plane and you arriving at your destination 12 hours late. Variants of this have happened to me enough times that I now never let myself relax into reading, doing work, etc; while waiting for a mode of transit if I'm traveling alone. I plant myself as close to the boarding door as possible (often this means "on the floor") in the hopes that people walking by will hit my peripheral vision, ignoring my concerns that this makes me look like a rude idiot; I set my phone to buzz an hour before departure and every 10-15 minutes thereafter to remind me to look up and see what's happening, I ask other passengers about announcements (rude idiot, again), I anxiously look up every minute or two from my paper to see if it looks like something might have happened...
Have I mentioned that I love traveling with friends? Also, "eavesdropping" was another thing I didn't see until middle school. As in, I'd read the word, knew what it meant, but didn't know it actually existed in real life; it was sort of like a unicorn. I couldn't figure out why all the other kids knew all this stuff -- where was the textbook they were reading that told them about popular boy bands or who had a crush on whom or what kinds of clothes were cool or that math wasn't or whatever? (I decided I didn't care.)
At one point we were inside a store ordering food and I started talking REALLY LOUDLY, and later my parents told me I was talking so softly they couldn't even hear me, so I totally misjudged my own volume. That's probably more because of the stuff in my ear makes my own voice sound louder, but may not be a factor in actual deafness?
It is, actually -- volume control is tough to learn! I'm pretty sure that at least one of you have experienced me doing this, but if we're walking and talking and pass from a quiet place into a noisy one, I'll keep talking because I'll forget that normal people can't lipread in background noise, and someone will have to stop me and say "wait WAIT until we get away from the machine shop I can't hear you" -- or if we're walking from a noisy place into a quiet one, I won't remember to adjust my volume down and end up being told that I don't need to shout. I don't think it's so much an inability to detect the intensity of your own voice -- bone conduction's pretty cool, and you can feel the magnitude of the vibrations in your throat and jaw (try it! put your hands on your neck, nose, cheek, etc. while humming, and get louder and softer, and see how it feels -- you can totally tell). It's an obliviousness to background noise -- you know how loud you're talking, but not how loud you should be talking.
Fun side note: hearing-impaired people have less noise tolerance than normal-hearing people. Because we're used to background noise not existing, when it suddenly does (hearing aid, cochlear implant, whatever) it becomes nigh unbearable.
I wasn't courageous enough to try talking to strangers except for a lady at the food counter, who was conscious of her own thick Korean accent and didn't mind repeating things several times, probably never even realizing that my issue was I couldn't hear her.
This is a good point -- sometimes, things that help accessibility for hearing impaired people (transcriptions, etc) also help non-native English speakers, and vice versa. (Foreign films are subtitled!)
I rented a stand-up surfboard thingy (it's like a really wide surfboard that you can stand (or sit as I did) on it and just paddle into the water. I was worried at first that my reduced hearing would make it unsafe but actually it didn't impact me at all... I could totally hear the water even though when I got back I still couldn't hear people talking. Also I was by myself so it felt really peaceful. So... water is at more perceivable frequencies than speech?
Maybe you were hearing the very powerful waves that had thundering low frequencies, and not the tinkling of the little ones? (I have been told that waves tinkle, though I've not experienced this myself.)
Mel, I can see why you prefer to be alone at times... it was super peaceful to just look at the scene rather than try to engage in it.
Effortfulness. (It's the opposite of effortlessness.) As time goes by, I'm learning that I might actually not be an extreme introvert -- I may be somewhere in the middle, but I may actually even be somewhat extroverted -- if so, it's the effortfulness of communicating in a crowd that drains me, not the crowd itself (as is the case with true introverts). Every time I've taken the Myers-Briggs, I keep answering the extrovert/introvert questions with "...well, yeah, but it's because it's hard to hear this..." This is one of the biggest reasons I am seriously thinking about becoming fluent in ASL; I want to find out if I'm an extrovert, and what it's like to be at a large in-person gathering where communication is effortless. I realize this experiment will take a lot of resources to run ("I want to do this experiment, so I will learn another language to fluency") but hey, why not?
Anyway, as my hearing is coming back, I'm really grateful for what I have, though I can't say that it wasn't a bit of a vacation in itself to be unable to hear for that short period of time. It felt really good to just tune everyone out and just sit and watch the scenery.
Thanks for sharing your experiences, folks. Your willingness to take the plunge and try this out means a lot to me, and it's fascinating to listen to your impressions of a little dip into one of my worlds.