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  • Jan Flynn

The Next Big Thing

Somebody invent this right away

Photo by Mark Paton on Unsplash

Is it weird to be excited about a hearing aid?

Of course, I’m way too young for such a thing. But my employee health benefits include coverage for a good chunk of the expense, and I’m soon to leave that job while we move several states away, so my husband and I decided to check it out. Maybe all those rock concerts and loud bars back in our headier days have taken a toll. Turns out Husband has just enough hearing loss in his left ear to barely qualify, and I have about the same margin of loss in my right.

Isn’t that cute? We’re bookends.

Long story short, after double-date audiology appointments (what could be sexier?), we are now the proud owners of one hearing contraption apiece. And when I say proud, I mean it: we think our ear gizmos are the greatest thing since rear-view cameras on cars. We understand that we’re supposed to be embarrassed by our hearing aids, but we just can’t manage it.

They’re so cool! The world sounds brighter and richer. Birds tweet more sweetly. Flutes freely flout their flourishes, no matter how high the notes. And we can watch TV without asking, “What?” every 30 seconds — even the British shows!

Honestly, we don’t get the secrecy. When it came to a choice of colors for the teeny little part that goes behind the ear, we were offered a palette that ranged from gray to beige.

“Where’s candy apple red?” asked my husband.

“We only offer colors like that in the childrens’ models,” replied the audiologist.

Well, fooey. Other than the coy subtlety, we’re happy as clams at high tide with our ear gadgets. They’re Bluetooth enabled, they don’t amplify background noise, and as they can be adjusted for all manner of environments .

Having this nifty thingie in my head moves me to wonder

If it’s possible to fine-tune hearing with a handy little device, why not take things several steps further?

Beyond enhanced hearing, how about enhanced thinking? After all, hearing is a brain function. I’m no scientist or engineer, but I’ve got a great item for the suggestion box. If geniuses somewhere aren’t already working on it, I propose they get busy and invent the Thinking Aid.

Imagine the possibilities. A small, wearable device, discreet enough to avoid detection by people who might otherwise accuse you of cheating at Scrabble. One that sharpens your mind, polishing your gray matter to a high sheen. But, and this is crucial, one that is customizable for a range of situations.

Because it wouldn’t be cool to have your brain firing on all cylinders every moment — people like that end up sitting alone on park benches ranting to the pigeons. No, you want your thinker tuned up and focused appropriately for the occasion. For starters, here are four proposed Thinking Aid settings:

1. The WDICIHF setting

An acronym for What Did I Come In Here For, many users would choose this as their default setting. Think of the time and frustration saved! No more charging confidently through a door into the next room, sure of your mission, only to end up standing in the middle of the floor suddenly bereft of purpose. No more staring at a half-empty mug of tea, wondering at how it got there, of all places. And finding the pruning shears you were searching for yesterday sitting on top of the refrigerator? A thing of the past.

As a bonus, WDICIHF also features a built-in locator function for your phone and keys.

2. The LOP setting

Standing for Life of the Party (that’s a working title; there could be tension between marketing and the legal department, who’d be concerned the term could lead to liability based on user behavior), LOP revs up the social connection regions of the brain. Simply by toggling a switch, you’ll be able to recall names, tell witty but brief anecdotes, and judiciously self-regulate conversational topics. Interest in others’ remarks will appear heightened through your enhanced use of appropriate, non-commital social cues. The LOP can also be set to shut down via a previously set timer, thus ensuring you sufficient recovery time as well as maximizing the likelihood of receiving repeat invitations.

In focus groups, LOP is likely to be rated most highly by women in long-term relationships whose partners otherwise demonstrate a marked reluctance to attend cocktail parties or holiday celebrations.

3. The RR setting

Random Recall allows users to access unrelated bits of information, such as the name of the guy who was in that movie with that other guy, with negligible lag time. Perfect for interactions with users’ adult children or playing Jeopardy, RR operates as a subroutine unless purposely deactivated by the user, which may be required in cases of life partner irritation.

Parallel to RR is SR, or Semantic Recall, a sub-subroutine that operates continuously unless the device is on Sleep mode (see Setting #4). SR allows for instantaneous retrieval of words, terms, and phrases. Handy for all users and a particular boon for writers.

4. Sleep

This feature, once manually selected by the user, tamps down brain activity outside survival functions such as heart rate, respiration, and digestion, while still allowing for alpha and beta brainwaves, deep sleep and REM modes.

Extraneous brain activity such as reimagining the argument you had with your cousin (who is just plain wrong) at the family reunion a year ago or trying, at 3:00 AM, to recall the plot of the TV show you were watching just before you went to bed, is diminished to the point of being imperceptible. How many times, in the wee hours, have you asked yourself “Why can’t I just turn off my brain?” Well, consider it done.

Safety features are of course included. Similar to your car’s adaptive cruise control, Sleep is deactivated by certain stimuli, including ground movement registering over 2.8 on the Richter scale, air raid sirens, and teenagers trying to sneak in or out of the house.

In the interests of the greater good, I’m offering the Thinking Aid concept open-source and free of charge. Because by the time this thing hits the market, I won’t remember I thought it up in the first place.

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