Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Sensory Deprivation

A friend and I recently decided to spend 40hrs being blind followed by 40hrs being deaf to learn about disabilities and ourselves. This experiment is a part of my quest for new experiences. To simulate deafness we used earpugs + earmuffs and to go blind we wrapped our faces in bandage tape. The idea was to try and live 'regular' lives for the 40hr period. This means things like catching public transport, eating out, walking down busy streets, attending social gatherings etc.  This is what is was like:

Being hearing impaired:

Being hearing impaired was a thoroughly frustrating experience. Conversations were limited to one person at a time and to environments without any background noise. When crowded environments were unavoidable it was tiring trying to listen to what people were saying. In everyday life I don't think that we 'listen' very much at all - we just 'hear'. To actually 'listen'; to squint your eyes in concentration, tilt your ears and body towards the noise in question and concentrate on the sounds;  is usually unnecessary with functioning auditory senses. When you're hearing impaired however this type of listening takes up a large part of your day - And it is exhausting!

Eventually you end up just giving up and hoping that you don't miss anything juicy or important and most of the time this strategy works. There were a few amusing moments where I would mishear things and confidently try and join in the conversations only to realise that I was being massively irrelevant. There were other times where I would get asked questions but not realise that I was being spoken to at all. One of the few upsides of being hearing impaired is the lack of expectation to contribute to conversations. Occasionally I would hear the murmurings of a conversation but have no desire to contribute to the conversation, it was nice to just sit there saying nothing and know that nobody will call you antisocial. Being hearing impaired  amounts to a fairly significant decrease in social interactions - whether you like it or not.

Outside of social scenarios there were moments where the quiet was nice; when it is night time and everyone else is in bed it's calming to only be able to hear your own breathing and nothing else, but overall I wouldn't come close to saying that being hearing impaired is desirable in any way. 

Being Blind:

Being blind was a strange and challenging experience. The most poignant memory of those 40hrs is feeling distinctly robotic. I was completely reliant on Scotty for cues about my surroundings and listening and obeying his directions became the most meaningful part of my own existence for a while. I'm sure that actual blind people don't always feel this way; surely with time one can learn how to develop real independence, but for us  the 40hrs of being blind translated to '40hrs of surrendering all control of your life to another person'.

The first hurdle to overcome was anxiousness. It is tempting to create mental maps of locations, to predict upcoming obstacles, and to move accordingly: But this is a bad idea. The best state of mind to be in is of relaxed obedience. It takes a fair bit of self-assurance and trust in the other person to reach this point, but it is well worth it.

The next hurdle is boredom. Contrary to my optimistic wishes being blind did not inspire me to engage in lengthy sessions of introspection and philosophy. Time seemed to pass incredibly slowly and I found that it was best to be constantly doing something stimulating to keep myself amused. You might think that something like walking might be a good way to fill the time, but you would be wrong. After the initial apprehension has been overcome walking becomes supremely tedious. When you have zero knowledge about your surroundings walking reduces to what, in essence, it really is: moving the muscles in your legs in an organised way.

Despite these hurdles there were definite moments of realisation that made being blind a valuable experience. One of my favourite parts about being blind was not giving a toss about what anybody thought of me. It's near-impossible to feel self-conscious or embarrassed when you can't see people's reactions to you. Instead you adopt the false, yet comforting, reasoning of: If I can't see them then they can't see me. It's a fairly liberating sort of feeling and one that I'd like to bring back with me to my regular life. Complete imperturbability - That's the aim.

Strangely, when I look at the photos of the places that I went when I was blind I feel as if they happened to someone else. Through my 40hrs being blind I instinctively started painting myself imaginary scenery around me and when I remember those few days I remember the imaginary landscapes I'd conjured up rather than the images that reflect reality. I feel like there are arguments to be made here about reality and perception. . . but I'll leave them for another time.

Some other interesting experiences that we had being blind and deaf were:

Travelling in cars:  Motion sickness kicks in very quickly when blind.

Going to the toilet blind:  The perpetual nervous wipe. . .

Social Interactions:  Being social isn't awful when blind, but gestures are certainly a problem. Blind Scotty was at a restaurant and decided to point to the meal he wanted on the menu (joking obviously). He ended up pointing directly at my friend's boobs. It was pretty amusing. He didn't end up getting boobs though. Just pizza.

Seeing Toucans. . . . everywhere: Because being blind provides absolutely nothing to look up we came up with an inside joke to make it a bit more bearable. In short we imagined toucans.

Here are some pictures  of what we got up to:

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