Time for states to fund a total recall of our ears


POSTED: Sunday, July 19, 2009

Listen up—it's the Digital Age, and our ears are letting us down at every turn.

Take a good look—if it wasn't for eons of social conditioning, we'd all run screaming to the cosmetic surgeon to get both strudel-shaped tumors removed.

Maybe Heidi Klum could book God on the Bravo Network and berate him with her German accent until he gives us all a makeover.

Some with a more evolutionary perspective, however, might shrug and say, “;Well, historically, they've gotten the job done.”;

Sure, when the job is picking up the subtle panting of a saber-toothed tiger hiding in the brush, they work fine. But just try using them to call your grandmother while walking down a busy street into a 30 mph headwind.

“;Hey, wait a darn minute!”; you're probably saying. “;Why blame ears for all this? If we can't hear what our gadgets are telling us, then maybe it's THEIR fault.”;

No, I'm sorry, but tech engineers have more than met us halfway on this. If you haven't noticed, we're transplanting entire faces. We're creating tiny black holes in large Swiss basements. The only reason we're not playing golf on the moon right now is because we don't feel like it.

So clearly, if 99.9 percent of all wireless Bluetooth headsets still pop out every time we turn our heads to merge left, the flaw must be our body's antiquated hardware.

States that ban the use of hand-held devices while driving, then, should address the real problem—fund a total recall of our ears, replacing them with a set of line-in 3.5 mm audio inputs, so driving will no longer interfere with our vital data processing.

Any random ambient sounds that we need to hear, from a police siren to the profanities of a cabbie we just cut off, could be easily transcoded to a digital format, broadcast into us over a WiFi network.

Or, in the highly likely event this idea is too radical, states could just buy us all the new Jawbone Prime NoiseAssassin Bluetooth headset (us.jawbone.com, $130)—the closest most of us will likely ever get to pre-cyborg wireless audio perfection.

HONESTLY, EVERY TIME I SEE a Bluetooth headset, I still wince a little. In social settings, nothing says “;Hi, you have at most 12 percent of my attention”; more than a plastic ear sidecar with a blinking blue light. But, we have to be realistic—they keep coming at us, and laws loopholed to let people drive while using them will only increase their propagation.

But testing it for a week, I can say at least the NoiseAssassin works, thanks in no small measure to the way it eliminates background noise. While wearing it, a small white sensor touches your face, telling the device to only transmit your voice and not the gale-force winds that whip past as you listen (or, let's be honest, pretend to listen while you think up something else to say).

The USB-charged device also comes with a half-dozen sturdy ear buds sized to fit any ear, and an ear loop that further secures the device to the side of your head. It's incredibly light, and I've seen pens that are thicker. Two buttons are completely hidden under its monolithic cover, though the required tapping routines to access its beyond-the-basics features take some time to master.

So if you have to move over to the Bluetooth dark side, the NoiseAssassin will have your back—at least until headset makers stop designing headsets and start designing heads.


Reach Star-Bulletin columnist Curt Brandao and subscribe to the free “;digitalslobpod”; podcast at digitalslob.com.