deafness, transhumanism, and not getting it

i awoke today with a ringing in my ears to read Doctorow’s story on boingboing about Michael Chorost, a deaf hacker, who ‘tinkered with the firmware on his cochlear implant, trying to get it to faithfully render out Ravel’s symphony, Boléro, eventually meeting with success.’

as i’m sure some of you know, i’m becoming increasingly familiar with Chorost’s plight. i have lost an average of 35dB in both ears, mostly in high tones. i am no longer privilege to the secret conversations of birds or crickets. although i can hear people talking next to me, i often cannot understand them – getting only muffled sounds of speech. i spend more time than you would probably consider comfortable considering my future, since one of the only things i can end up realistically visualizing is myself in a buddhist monastery, silently meditating and praying for the ringing to stop.

in the case of this boingboing story, however, it appears that Doctorow rather misses the point. to him, it appears to be

“a template for a tale that I believe will become more and more prevalent in times to come: a person who relies on computerized prosthetics not being satisfied with the features that were included with it out of the box, taking it upon herself to improve it, to extend it, using her own body and perceptions as a labratory for experiments on human perception and performance.”

to Cory, perhaps, this is a story about tinking with what you have been given, about amplifying your senses and other human capacities. i can see the poetry in that – i’m not a stone. but that is not the poetry of the deaf, hard of hearing, or otherwise impaired. people such as Chorost have better things to worry about than how to take digital photographs with their eyes or extend their memory. it may seem like a noble transhumanist tale when you are sitting there with all your functions, but every day, these people are using their own blood, sweat, and tears in buying back what God has already stolen.

link to original article.





One response to “deafness, transhumanism, and not getting it”

  1. Michael Chorost Avatar

    That’s a beautifully written entry, and thank you for the nice comments. You should know that immediately upon losing my hearing, I experienced off-the-scale tinnitus. It was incredibly loud. But my cochlear implant eliminated it almost completely. I don’t hear it all when the device is on. When it’s off, I still hear it, but it’s very soft and easily disregarded. I’ve heard of research in creating a variant of the cochlear implant solely to treat tinnitus by using electrical impulses to mask the wayward neural noise. If you ever lose your hearing entirely – and I can see your concern about that – it might paradoxically be a blessing in disguise, because a cochlear implant might restore you to functionality and mask your tinnitus in the bargain. So don’t give in to despair. These days, medical technology has taken much of the terror out of deafness and replaced it with hope. I write more about tinnitus in my book about getting a cochlear implant, titled “Rebuilt: How Becoming Part Computer Made Me More Human.” Check it out on my web site,

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