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So, do you think you're really having more trouble hearing people, or just care more about actually hearing what they say?

Jen, I'm sorry to hear about your friend. It's bittersweet: my sister had a friend just like yours, and at a party we had each other cracked up. He too died of AIDS some years ago.

I'm also sorry about your ears. I have precisely the same problem (though mine is from years of being in a concert band and listening to Tchaikovsky cranked all the way up). I always tell people my internal Fourier filter is messed up.

Hey Jen,

Nice tribute to Nick. That was a great party wasn't it? And we could both actually hear back then! I too have lost my hearing in a lot of the upper ranges and restaurant/party noise just wrecks my ability to hear conversation. Probably cause: blasting stereo, former some Walkman abuse (I'm clean now, though, no iPod here)and genetics. My dad's family have all been a little hard of hearing for most of their lives. In his case, working with jet engines didn't help either. Then there's the squealing toddler next door who can nearly hit the range of a dog whistle . . .

In particular, I have difficulty making out human speech in very noisy ambient environments.

Aside: Yeah, I'm behind on your blog....

I've always had trouble with this. However, any time I've had my hearing tested, it comes out as normal or better than normal across the various frequency bands. I think that in my case, it's a signal processing, not a signal detection problem. I get the sounds, it's just that something in my brain has trouble filtering it out over background noise.

Being a classical music geek, I skipped out on a lot of the very loud rock concerts that my peers went to. And while, yes, I had a Walkman, I never spent a huge amount of time listening to it, and I was generally horrified how loud other people had their music in their Walkmen, in their cars, etc. I don't believe I've suffered much hearing loss. And, indeed, I've always had the problem. But, yeah, perhaps I've lost some sort of hearing everywhere.

I've long had this suspicion that nobody can hear what anybody else is saying at any of those "loud crowd" parties, but that everybody else has figured out how to fake it better than me. In any event, ever since high school I've hated those sorts of events, because it's a bunch of people standing around trying to yell out a conversation, and still mostly not hearing what each other are saying. Or, at any rate, that was always my experience. Perhaps everybody else really is hearing what each other are saying. In any event, it further cemented my identity as a nerd to hate those sorts of things.

It may be just an auditory signal processing problem, or it may be part of something larger; I wrote about it long ago here on my blog :

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    Physics Cocktails

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