Innovation Is Not Dead Yet

I have big ears. It’s okay, it wasn’t how you looked at me or anything you said. I’ve known it for a while now.

Thing is, it’s a lot less obvious today than it was in my childhood. I guess that as we’re growing, and parts of our bodies grow at different rates, some things really stand out. It’s why a cartoon child typically has big eyes and a big head – the rest just hasn’t caught up yet. And it’s probably why in primary school I acquired names like Big Ears, Dumbo, and the like.

Perhaps my ears caught wind of my ego and just knew I was going to end up with a big head – I use an XL sized motorcycle helmet – but this has had one amusing side effect: I simply cannot wear earphones.

AirPods? I’m sure they’re great, but I’ll never know: They fall out. I’d see people jogging with earphones in and, as well as wishing that I had the intestinal fortitude to jog, I admired their superhuman ability to jog and listen to tunes. Amazing Stuff.

This continued for a long while, and then in 2021 I discovered bone-conduction headphones.

I don’t even know where to start. Can we just say Life Changing?

Sure, they may not have perfect frequency response across the spectrum (your skull conducts lower frequencies better than high ones, so they’re not going to give you theatre audio quality), and they let in outside noise (which, living in the flight path of an airport, makes for interruptions sometimes), these aren’t always negatives: I can be listening to a talk, an audiobook, or music, and I can hear an approaching car or a question from someone nearby equally well. Indeed, this is probably a great reason to not pursue full frequency response – let the ears fill in those gaps if needed!

My wife tried them and shortly thereafter purchased her own pair. After suffering significant hearing loss following ear surgery, she can hear with these far better than other headphones, earphones, or speakers. In much the same way Beethoven was alleged to have listened to his compositions by clenching a rod between his teeth and pressing it to his piano, it’s exciting to see the potential for innovations like this to make life materially better for some people.

Got more than a few hours out of these guys.

My pair cracked this week. The crack prevents the right earphone from clamping firmly against my head and so it’s now a left-only, somewhat muted monophonic experience. Since they’re very much a part of everyday life now, I looked up a replacement and only then noticed they come with a two-year warranty. A photo, a copy of the receipt, and an email, and the supplier is sending a replacement.

And I guess that’s where I felt this experience took a turn towards the hopeful.

See, it’s easy to see the current era of text prediction engines as the herald for a major upset to the way we do our work (or whether we have work at all). It might feel like ChatGPT writes a formal memorandum far better (and faster) than we can. But there’s a lot it’s not going to do, certainly not yet.

There’s still room for us to build innovative products that become invaluable to an appreciative clientele. There’s still room for great customer service. There’s still room for genuine human interaction, appreciation, and hope.

If automation continues to do away with the mundane, will we be freed to deliver more innovation and better service?

I’d like to think so. In the meantime, I’m off for another walk with my now left-ear-only audiobook while I wait for the mail.

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