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Hacking the Future: Technology’s Hidden Path

What will the year 2050 be like? As I sit here, I am typing on a bluetooth keyboard synced without a wire to an iPad. this is something that just a few years ago would’ve been inconceivable. The words I write self-correct themselves, sometimes doing a lousy job, but still, my clumsy fingers type away and I am not bothered with going back into my sentence and searching for spelling errors. Perhaps in the year 2050, all one will have to do is think and the words will spout out onto the page. 

The point is this: technology is moving at a pace that is beginning to supersede our own ability to process it. What once seemed only a distant science fiction fantasy is now finding itself its rightful place in our homes.

Here is one such case.

My grandfather is an old man, and with that age comes a sense of wonderment and befuddlement at new technology. He served in the Navy during World War II, and is now finding himself out of sorts with the world of modern advancement. He has accepted the world of a million channels, yet somehow seems baffled at cell phone technology as well as my beloved Internet. God knows what he would think of a site like Reddit. He even still has a cellphone from 2004, in case of an emergency, and has never once paid a bill for an internet connection. Words like WIFI or 3G make him turn his head like a curious golden retriever.

Yet he has always been fascinated with the late, great Steve Jobs.  My grandfather was an early adopter of the iPad. Yet he had no idea how much it would improve his life until this past week. Without use of the internet, based purely on the fact that it “cost too much,” he would occasionally have me buy him a conservative book or two, and one day I stumbled on an article about the Gutenberg Project. With a few clicks, I downloaded a lifetime of classic novels onto his iPad. He was in heaven. However, he was limited to the amount of power the iPad could possess because of his stubborn fixation on paying an extra fee for getting online.

As he has gotten older, he has had acute hearing loss, of which even a seven thousand dollar hearing aid could not help alleviate. Every conversation has been translated by my grandmother, as he painfully says “What did he just say?” after every sentence. Due to some strange coincidence or fate, he has always been able to hear my grandmother’s tone of voice. There was one small victory for his hearing, however. For some reason unbeknownst to me, he stumbled into a Bose store in the mall. He went down the line of headphones and found a pair of noise canceling headphones that actually allowed him to hear again. News, music, television, whatever it was that the headphones were connected to was as clear as a bell. And just like the glass slipper, as soon as he took them off his hearing was gone.

Then it occurred to me: if he could use the iPad somehow connected to the Bose headphones, he might be able to hear. Ive been recording music for the last three years exclusively using my iPad 3, to rather remarkable results. I “hijacked” his iPad 1 last Saturday,updated it to IOS 4 (highest it will go) and downloaded my $5 copy of Garageband onto his iPad. I was nervous. Would something so simple actually work? I brought the newly updated iPad to my grandfather this past Sunday. I also downloaded a slightly simpler program called Microphone and opened that first. He put on the headphones, and yet heard nothing. I fumbled the iPad from his hands and opened Garageband, a program I am much more familiar with. I opened the mic setting and turned the monitor on.

A smirk came across his face.

“Its as clear as a bell! Its a miracle!” he said.

We proceeded to have a normal conversation, without the usual translations by my grandmother shouting at him, enunciating every word as loud as comfortably possible. We turned on NBC as an Olympic figure skater danced to one of my favorite Muse songs (Exodus). He could carry on a conversation while hearing the music in the background. He could choose what he wanted to listen to; something he hasn’t been able to do for nearly fifteen years. I began to think of the consequences of such a revelation. He could download the Garageband app on an iPod touch and have something extremely portable that he could take anywhere. What his seven thousand dollar hearing aids couldn’t do was being done with technology he already had within his house!

“Why doesn’t anyone know about this ? This could be a major game changer for those that are hard-of-hearing!” he exclaimed. The truth is, I told him, was that I didn’t know why at all this hadn’t been figured out. Perhaps it was a fluke. Or maybe someone already has written about this and changed the way people look at such an amazing device. My grandfather has been using the iPad for hearing for the last few days, and it is still quite extraordinary for him. This was accomplished with technology that was available for the last 5 years at least. Perhaps as technology continues advancing, it will not just require our complacency, but rather our collective willingness to venture beyond what we are told something is for that will be the ultimate test of our limits.

What does 2050 hold for us? I don’t known, but I am definitely excited to find out.

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