Imagining a sense for others

Imagining a sense for others

Memory Tapes is a BBC Radio 6 segment, hosted by Lauren Laverne, where she asks listeners to share the story of mix tapes they’ve made for others.

I recently learned of a 2014 episode, in which Tremayne Crossley shared the playlist he’d prepared for his friend Joanne Milne. Joanne had been deaf from birth and was about to have her hearing restored for the first time. After Joanne underwent bilateral cochlear implant surgery, whereby an electronic device was implanted in both of her ears, Tremayne’s playlist would be one of the first things she heard.

Top of his list was ‘Everything I Own’ by reggae artist Ken Boothe.

Which record would you choose to play someone who was about to experience the sense of hearing for the very first time?

The story inspired my thinking in several ways:

  1. As an example of empathy. This act required Tremayne to parlay his own experience of a sense his friend had never enjoyed into a curated moment based on what he knew of her in another context. This, surely, is the skill at the heart of good, user-centred design?
  2. As a reminder of how powerfully one’s sense of hearing acts on the emotions. Imagining oneself in the position of Joanne, poised on the cusp of being able to hear music for the first time, made me consider how relatively neglected the audible dimension remains in digital design. This is an area we have highlighted in the MEX community for some years and will continue to address. There’s a wealth of writing, videos and podcasts in the MEX archive relating to this under Pathway #9.
  3. As an ending, something which has been on my mind while reading Joe Macleod’s book ‘Ends: Closure Experiences‘ (my guest on the most recent MEX podcast). While the story represented a beginning of sorts, it also marked the end of a phase in Joanne’s life, something celebrated by Tremayne’s playlist choices, which focused only on songs from the years between Joanne’s birth and the restoration of her hearing.

Part of MEX Inspirations, an ongoing series exploring tangents and their relationship to better experience design.

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