This is the second part of a three-part interview. You can find the first part here.
“I’d like to talk about communication and intimacy,” he says, taking our conversation in a rather surprising direction. I stay quiet in anticipation of his next words.
“As a deaf person,” he says, “I always struggle with communication. It is difficult for me to hear over the phone. It is hard for me to talk with people in noisy environments. That made it hard for me to feel connected to groups. So I’ve always struggled with communication as a deaf person. So, to me, getting my implant was only a way of getting sound. But I wanted something more. I wanted to be able to establish more intimate relationships with people.
“So in [World Wide Mind] I talk about the fact that I had turned forty and had never been in love. So for me to hear, it was only the first step. And maybe the most important step. So in the book I talk about trying to communicate with people. And so I went to communications workshops, and I learned how to sit down and really listen to someone, without running my own inner monologue in my head. And I paid attention to what they said, and I paid attention to what I felt.”
I can’t help but think that in a world where people exist without the ability to hear, those of us with working hearing sometimes never take the time to listen. Swamped with human noise, it’s sometimes hard to single out the voices we want to listen to. But one of the voices we’ve been listening to, especially on the topic of communication and cochlear implants, is Michael’s. Does he gain any sense of achievement or satisfaction from having brought the public’s attention round to the issues that affect him personally? Does he have any goals that extend beyond his attempts to restore his hearing completely?
“That’s never really been my ultimate goal as a writer,” he says. “It’s really been the medium by which I get there. What is my ultimate goal is to talk more about communication, and community. How people can feel more richly connected to the world and the people around them. Cochlear implants are only one way in which people do this. People like me.
“My experience with cochlear implants was a launching point for my second book, the World Wide Mind, because [the implant] made me aware that you really could augment the body with implanted electronics, and by ‘augment’ I mean really restore it, not improve it. My hearing is not as good as normal. It’s just good enough, as you and I can tell by the fact we’re having this conversation.”
It’s nice to have him touch on the one aspect of this interview that’s had me rooted to the spot since the moment he picked up the phone. The fact that machine-augmented human biology has enabled me to have a complex discussion about technology and communication with someone who cannot hear anything at all without their implant, still does not cease to amaze me, even as I write this, days after the interview took place.
It’s clear technology, and especially the internet, will dictate this era of human-manufactured evolution for our species. Does he think we’re ever destined for a group consciousness? Truly instant communication? Will the internet play a pivotal role in that?
“This is the hive-mind concept, am I right?” I respond in the affirmative, eagerly anticipating a response about the hive mind theory that doesn’t originate from a StarCraft or Warhammer 40,000 player, and allow him to continue.
“I start the book by talking about how evolution works. I talked about the fact that it often has the effect of making species become more complex and more capable. It doesn’t always do that, but it often does,” he says. “So we get sort of drive, towards complexity, and greater collaboration. So I say ‘how could this happen in the human world? Where’s the next step for human beings?’
“The fact that we are so obsessed with our own technologies, that there’s a huge limitation due to the fact that we have to type, and some of us are slow typers, we have to look at our screens, which means we’re forced to divert our attention to the object rather than the world around us. And so I think there is a kind of hunger to overcome that separation, between the human and the machine. And this is something I have personal experience with.”
I think his personal hunger to overcome that separation is, without a doubt, the most inspiring thing about him.