I sat in a small dark room. My ears were covered, creating an unnerving silence almost too loud to bear. A little bit of claustrophobia crept in, broken only by the sound of her voice. The contralto of Cruella de Vil, sliding into my ears.
I glanced at her from the corner of my eye, as beautiful as her voice is smooth. She sat behind a pane of glass, with a warm but distant smile.
“If you can hear the tone, please raise your hand.”
A high pitched tone pierced my right ear. I raised my right hand. I waited a few seconds for the left.
I’m officially worried.
My left ear had been acting up for a few weeks, feeling like I was perpetually under water, voices sounding like they’d been run through Eddie Van Halen’s wah pedal twice over.
Cruella was an audiologist named Michelle, and my appointment fell on Halloween. Checked in by a dalmation, tested by Cruella herself. If the sensory depravation of a battery of hearing tests wasn’t enough, I found myself in the middle of the Disney version of medical care.
My tests came back with a significant high range loss in my left year.
Cause: unknown. Prognosis: unclear.
I think I know what caused it. A couple of months earlier, on 4th of July, I taught my son the wonders of roll caps. After banging a few on the driveway with a hammer, I had the wisdom to suggest we hit an entire roll in one strike — without hearing protection. One swing of the hammer — my left ear was ringing and didn’t stop for days.
A few months later, after some fall allergy congestion, my left ear clogged and didn’t clear up for weeks. Perhaps it was a combination of the roll caps and allergies, or maybe all those years of loud music caught up to me, but it was official: My left ear didn’t work all that well anymore.
Now years later, I’ve learned to cope with the hearing loss. I’ve grown to appreciate a quiet restaurant nook over a noisy bar, a gathering of a few friends instead of a crowd. I have to concentrate harder in meetings held in cavernous conference rooms where the sound disappears on its way across the table.
Hearing takes a lot more focus now, and I’m a lot more intentional about avoiding unnecessary noise when trying to listen or communicate. The noisy room is now my nemesis.
I’ve realized that my social media streams have become that noisy room, too often a distracting bauble that steals my focus from those people and activities that give me real personal satisfaction.
My loss of attention is real. I can’t focus through the noise. My loss isn’t measured by Cruella herself, but rather by the hours I spend scrolling through a steady stream of posts — many from many people I barely know — and processing none of them.
Make no mistake, my life is better with social media in it. But I’ve begun the process of pruning some of the noise to more clearly focus on what really matters. I’m determined to make social media a tool that continues to enhance the depth of my life’s experience, rather than mumbling it into the noise.