Friday, March 20, 2015

Another Paradox

The sorting of human beings by similarities and differences is nothing new; it's been done throughout the history of man. But the "groups" feature of online chats and social clubs in our world today puts a new slant on classifying us by who we are or who we think we are. It fabricates and nurtures a familial brotherhood among those who have similar traits, thoughts, beliefs, and experiences; and it can lull us into a false security of pseudo-friendships and well-being by connecting us with people we've never seen -- real people and characters created solely for online interactions. These groups easily sort us into groups of like-mindedness and make us think -- even believe -- that we are not alone. That we aren't quite as unique or different as we may have thought before. It "normalizes" us into a comfortable status quo.

This can be good -- when one finds help and support for problems and difficulties, and confirms in our minds that because others have experienced similar problems and found their way through, we can too. It can be bad when the group enables less-desirable behaviors and thought patterns. Both are virtual worlds where truths and lies are hard to distinguish.

I have participated in both. And I have rued the positive and negative consequences of both.

Truth be told -- until I joined some Facebook groups, I didn't even know a single soul who had hearing loss, or even wore hearing aids. And since that time, I've only met two people outside of the Facebook connection who do -- both colleagues of mine. I thought there'd be more.

And outside of my Facebook groups, I haven't met anyone with a cochlear implant. Indeed, my school district's audiologist told me I'm the only teacher they've ever had in the district with one, and only a handful of students have had them.

According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), approximately 35 million Americans have some degree of hearing loss. That's 1 in 8 people! But for reasons unknown, less than a third of those people seek help. Among adults aged 70 and older with hearing loss who could benefit from hearing aids, fewer than one in three (30 percent) has ever used them. Even fewer adults aged 20 to 69 (approximately 16 percent) who could benefit from wearing hearing aids have ever used them. The "ear-bud generation" is expected to increase those numbers exponentially, as the NIH estimates that approximately 15 percent of Americans (26 million people) between the ages of 20 and 69 have high frequency hearing loss due to exposure to noise at work or during leisure activities. (It's a freaking epidemic!)

What astonished me even more is that there are fewer than 325,000 cochlear implant recipients worldwide, with fewer than 100,000 of those living here in the United States.

I thought there'd be more.

It's that false world of Facebook-social-media-groups thing. Logging on to my Facebook account and perusing my cochlear implant and hearing loss groups changed my perception of reality. It only made me think there are a lot of us around. The truth is: we are few and far between. We've simply found our way to a social media group that has connected us with others who are like us: sorting us together by our unique experiences. And it makes us perceive that there are many more. Together we find comfort, encouragement, information, and comradery. And together, we don't feel so alone, even when we are.

It is a paradox.

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