by Ruochen Huang
"Hearables companies are currently developing products that aim to both supplement and augment hearing."
In Spike Jonze’s Her, Joaquin Phoenix falls in love with his earpiece — or rather, the female voice inside it. The film depicts a society in which artificially intelligent hearing devices serve as human companions.
A cliché for the hearables future, Her nonetheless raises several key issues regarding the increasingly saturated industry of ear-worn wearables that must be resolved — not only to prevent an isolated world in which people become increasingly obsessed with their trinkets but also to herald the advancement of hearable technologies that will perhaps even be capable of their own self-reflection and introspection.
Reshaping The Stigma
The lonely future portrayed in Her is exactly what hearable technology should not evolve into. Yet, it reinforces how people generally perceive these earpieces — isolating and potentially embarrassing. We’ve already seen (and joked about) them with early iterations of the Bluetooth headset — this clunky, protruding device gave an almost comical impression that one was talking to oneself. It also attempted to standardize hearable technology, an effort to combat the existing stigma of isolation and introversion exuded through headphones and earphones.
Bluetooth headsets introduced the world to the potential of hearables, but the stigma is still there and especially present in health devices, such as hearing aids. They give the impression that the user is immersed in their own world; they’re perceived as socially awkward.