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Reprinted from ACI Alliance Calling, July 2015

A Consumer’s Perspective

Richard Reed, Rhythm & Blues Musician                                                      

Richard Reed (photo credit: Bob Karambelas)

Welcome to the future. Still no flying cars? Ah well. I can’t be too disappointed with modern technology. I went deaf at the end of the 20th century, and can hear here in the 21st. My cochlear implant is a time machine that transports me to sounds and songs I thought were lost forever. A few things don’t sound like they did before I lost my hearing. How many things don't quite taste, smell, look or feel like they used to? Things change and/or our perceptions change. Our memory goes to work on those perceptions and, hopefully, somewhere along the line we become acclimated. When my fourteen year-old niece gets nostalgic about music, food or school in “the good old days,” it’s funny to realize she’s talking about 2010. Forget the future, the past happens fast. When using a CI at first, that’s not such a bad thing. The sooner we get accustomed to this noisy planet, the better.

People ask what things sound like through the CI. I can describe and even imitate activation day. Yes it sounded weird. Imitations and simulations can’t capture the more miraculous but mundane-seeming reality of what happened later: most sounds are quite normal now. “That’s such an amazing thing,” friends say, referring to the CI. So too the brain. Not my brain especially, but everybody’s brain. Getting a CI is the first step in a process that should include a reasonable amount of post-activation (re) habilitation. We need to get those synapses snapping. Neuroplasticity is under-appreciated. Spell-check even subjects it to the indignity of the dotted red underline sometimes. Considering all it does for us, neuroplasticity deserves a higher profile, should be at least as well known as crowd-sourcing or virtualization. Hopefully, President Obama’s BRAIN Initiative will accomplish for neuroplasticity in America what the ACI Alliance is attempting for CI in research, advocacy and awareness.

As a late-deafened musician, I’ve got a lot to gain from future CI technologies. Pitch perception is still problematic for CI users, but we haven’t let that get in the way of a good time. Music is about more than pitch. It’s about more than a lyric, rhythm, chord progression or tone. Any combination of these qualities can add up to a lot more than the sum of its parts. Music only needs to break our hearts in a good way or make us dance. Or both. At first and for quite a while, CI music sounded completely alien. Now, almost 13 years post-activation, it sounds down to Earth again. Like anything worth doing, CI music can be difficult to get right, to do well. We make mistakes. So what? It isn’t brain surgery. Some musical mistakes actually end up sounding good. Composers use “happy accidents” all the time.

Sci-fi prognosticators of yesteryear offered scant details as to where we’d park all those flying cars or how to handle extra-terrestrial rush hour with fuel cells running low. The ACI Alliance is working on making the biotech dream of artificial ears (farfetched just a few years ago) come true for many more Americans. If you’re not yet a member of the American Cochlear Implant Alliance, please consider joining. Don’t let the CI future start without you. It sounds too cool to miss.

* Additional Information on listening to Music with a Cochlear Implant can be found in our Blog section.

The mission of the American Cochlear Implant (ACI) Alliance is to advance access to the gift of hearing provided by cochlear implantation through research, advocacy and awareness.