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The history of technology and cultural values are tightly interwoven. With any technological development, you can see how the desires, needs, and values of the surrounding culture prompted the innovation. Although some people tinker with technology with a pure curiosity to understand what is possible, most of the discoveries that make their way to becoming a marketable commodity have a close connection to human desire. This connection makes us wonder how many discoveries have been lost to time simply because they were not valuable to the culture in which they came about. Human needs and desires have a close connection with one specific trend in technology: miniaturization. How exactly are these desires a driving force in the process of miniaturization?
One of the many interests that prompted these innovations in technology had to do with a stigma on hearing loss. Unfortunately, many people in human history have tried to hide their hearing loss. Rather than talking openly about their abilities and needs, they tried to mask their condition as much as possible. This connection between the human desire to hide hearing loss and the developments of assistive technology resulted in remarkable changes for other domains of technological advancement, as well.
Mara Mill is a scholar of hearing assistive technology and the history of these developments. In her essay, “Hearing Aids and the History of Electronics Miniaturization,” Mills follows these developments through time, charting the process of Let’s take a look at some key moments in the history of hearing assistive technology and consider how those innovations created the possibility for miniaturization of other electronic components far beyond the context of hearing.
The History of Hearing Assistance
Human beings have been dealing with hearing loss for our entire history. Although many attempts have been made to amplify sound to a level that can be heard, dating to the earliest evidence from ancient civilizations, these technologies really took off during the era of modernization in the late 18th Century. The market for these hearing technologies can be said to begin in 1800 with the first dedicated hearing assistance company, Frederick Rein of London, who sold hearing trumpets, hearing fans, and conversation tubes. Although these devices did something to amplify the entire sonic environment, they tended to be bulky, cumbersome, and, most importantly, visible. Those who wanted to find discreet ways to assist their hearing without putting hearing loss on display were left with few options until the era of electronics miniaturization.
Miniaturization and Hearing Assistance
As Mills describes, electronics miniaturization efforts were spurred onward by hearing assistive technology. The micro-telephone was an early portable device for this purpose, and the shrinking size of electronics really took off in the early 20th Century. As transistors, printed circuits, and integrated circuits made it possible to reduce the size of audio transformation, these devices were increasingly hidden from sight. Smaller hearing aids were developed through this century, largely driven by the avoidance of bulky, visible technology to assist hearing. These technological innovations turned around and found application in a wide range of contexts, including the portable audio technologies we use today in smartphones and media devices. It is difficult to say where would be with audio electronics were it not for the desire to hide hearing loss from public view.
Miniature Hearing Aids Today
As the process of miniaturization took place through the 20th Century, ever smaller hearing aids were made available. Indeed, hearing aids are available today that fit entirely inside the ear canal, hidden from sight. Sometimes known as “invisible” hearing aids, the units can provide assistance without any disclosure of hearing loss.
Although the social stigma on hearing loss is an unfortunate reality of many cultural contexts, that very desire to hide assistive technology led to a wide range of other technologies and applications. If your desire to hide hearing loss from others has been keeping you from getting assistance, there are many options for discreet, stylish, and even completely hidden hearing aids today.
Don’t let your hesitance to show hearing aids keep you from getting treatment for hearing loss any longer. The time is now to make an appointment for a hearing exam!