The key benefit of technology-driven communication enhancement is additional human connectivity—and, ironically, becoming more human.

As hearing professionals become more deeply involved with advancedtechnology hearing aid amplification systems, it may be beneficial to consider communication and connectivity from traditional and nontraditional perspectives.

Douglas L. Beck, AuD, is director of professional relations at Oticon Inc, Somerset, NJ, and Michael A. Harvey, PhD, ABPP, is a clinical psychologist and trainer in Framingham, Mass, and consultant faculty at Pennsylvania College of Optometry, School of Audiology.

Traditional communication can be defined as the physical act of transferring information. We speak, hear, send and receive text and instant messages, and transmit e-mail. We engage in phone conversations; we listen to MP3s, radio, and TV; we read and write. As such, communication is essentially an external event; it happens “out there.”

On the other hand, traditional connectivity can be defined as a “shared internal experience.” Connectivity is what happens after communication has been successfully achieved. Communication and connectivity are indeed different, but are also intertwined.

In psychology, the terms “affective connection” and “empathetic atunement” describe the emotional connection—the human percept secondary to communication. In other words, beyond hearing and speaking (communication) is listening, thinking, cognition, and shared emotions (connectivity).

Given that communication facilitates connectivity, connectivity may suffer when communication is impaired. However, one can certainly have communication impairment (ie, hearing loss) and still enjoy connectivity. Perhaps one communicates effectively through increasing the loudness of the TV or radio, or uses sign language, text messaging, captioning, or other communication protocols. When these communication solutions are effectively and efficiently engaged, there’s no loss of connectivity. We all know people with communication difficulties and disorders who enjoy glorious connectivity—and the opposite is also possible. Some people have limited or minimal connectivity, yet they possess well-functioning communication systems.

Traditional connectivity occurs when people interact, consciously or unconsciously. One relatively new research aspect of human connectivity is what researchers coined “physiological synchrony.” Physiological synchrony occurs when physical beings (such as humans and canines) and their psyches (their emotional selves) are intimately intertwined and interdependent. For example, when a mother and infant play together, their hearts have been found to beat in time. Ciaramicoli and Ketcham found that when people pet their dogs, the person’s and the dog’s heartbeats slow down.1

For people with normal sensory systems, traditional communication occurs seamlessly, without effort and without assistance via hearing, vision, taste, smell, and tactile sensations. In these situations, effective and efficient connectivity may flourish.

However, when communication is flawed due to weakened sensory (ie, hearing loss, vision loss, etc) or poor communication systems (poor-quality television, telephones, MP3, speakers, hearing aids, etc), we lose more than communication; we lose connectivity with other humans. It can be argued that, when connectivity is lost, we lose human empowerment. That is, we lose the opportunity for human interaction, enablement, and growth.

Certainly, elevated audiometric hearing thresholds contribute to poor communication, but the more significant problem is quite often the loss of connectivity.

Keen2 attributed the following quote to Mark Ross: “When someone in the family has a hearing loss, the entire family has a hearing problem.” This is true on two levels. The person with the hearing loss is not communicating effectively (not receiving transferred information efficiently), and the person with hearing loss is often no longer able to connect (share experience) effectively with family, friends, society, or communication partners.

Kochkin3 noted untreated hearing loss has been correlated with irritability, negativism, anger, fatigue, tension, stress and depression, avoidance or withdrawal from social situations, social rejection and loneliness, reduced alertness and increased risk to personal safety, impaired memory and impaired ability to learn new tasks, reduced job performance and earning power, and diminished psychological and overall health.

Although the communication system is negatively impacted through hearing loss, it may well be the loss of connectivity that is the root cause of these emotional issues. Additionally, it can be argued the reason we communicate is essentially to connect with other people. As such, when connectivity is absent or diminished, the emotional essence of relationships suffers.

Traditional connectivity might be thought of as the personal manifestation of communication. As such, communication and connectivity problems usually occur within the same person because communication problems often cause connectivity problems.

Nontraditional Communication and Connectivity

Regardless of the message source, the need for human communication and connectivity remains constant. As the ability of people to communicate through nontraditional technical means increases, the traditional boundaries between communication and connectivity, as well as the boundaries between people and machines, may become a bit fuzzy.

For example, the person who hears through a cochlear implant or a brain-stem implant receives auditory stimuli (communication) essentially through a machine, which creates, for many, a perfectly valid human auditory percept (connectivity).

Chorost4 referred to becoming a “cyborg” (part human, part machine) upon his first electrical stimulation through his cochlear implant. However, the sum of his personal experience was overwhelmingly beneficial and positive as reflected in his book’s title and throughout the ensuing chapters as he “became more human.” Secondary to acquiring additional communication input through his cochlear implant, he acquired human connectivity.

Visual percepts have been successfully delivered across sophisticated electrode arrays surgically located on the retina to avail sight to previously blind people. Early successes of blind people who were once again able to see gross shapes and light intensity via electrical implants in their retina have occurred.5 As their communication was enhanced through computer-driven visual percepts, connectivity to their world very likely increased, too.

The multitude of human (and other primate) benefits from increased communication and connectivity is astounding.

One recent example that may represent connectivity in the absence of additional communication is the recent motor cortex implant, which has enabled monkeys to use their thoughts and desires to move artificial limbs to acquire food.6,7

Levitin8 recently addressed another possibility, noting neural implants may eventually be grafted to human brains in the not too distant future. He posited neural implants might one day be used to increase intelligence in schoolchildren and others, or perhaps to benefit Alzheimer’s patients.

Melinda Beck9 recently documented astounding benefits secondary to technical achievements for people with low vision. As communication technology contributes to the well-being of people, they enjoy a better quality of life via connectivity.

The ability to seamlessly and wirelessly connect multiple sound sources to advanced personal hearing aids represents another milestone in human communication and connectivity. Lindley10 referred to connectivity as the interaction of hearing instruments as they share information from a multitude of sound sources—at speeds unimaginable just a few years ago. Connectivity with navigation systems (GPS), telephones, AM, FM, DVD, MP3, television, PDAs, etc, with the Oticon Streamer and Rise-platform-based hearing aid systems (ie, Epoq and Dual Connect) represents a significant technology-based breakthrough and achievement.

However, the more significant impact may be the resultant human connectivity that occurs secondary to employing these advanced technologies. In other words, as advanced communication opportunities have increased, so too has the opportunity for increased human connectivity through advanced hearing products.


Technologically advanced communication systems have the ability to impact and improve human perception and quality of life. As communication venues, opportunities, and quality increase, humans benefit from resultant enhanced human connectivity. Indeed, the single most important benefit of technology-driven communication enhancement is additional human connectivity.


  1. Ciaramicoli AP, Ketcham K. The Power of Empathy: A Practical Guide to Creating Intimacy, Self-Understanding and Love. New York: Dutton; 2000.
  2. Keen C. UF study: elderly admit hearing loss but not necessarily its effects. 2003.
  3. Kochkin S. Hearing loss introduction. 2005.
  4. Chorost M. Rebuilt: How Becoming Part Computer Made Me More Human. Boston: Houghton-Mifflin; 2005. ISBN 0618378284.
  5. Beck DL. Oticon Clinical Update (page 16).
  6. Beck DL. Motor cortex-machine Interface: monkey controls prosthetic using brain activity.
  7. Beck DL. Brain implants and motor paralysis: an interview with Chet Moritz, PhD.
  8. Levitin D. Brain candy. In: New York Times Sunday Book Review. Review of Michale S. Gazzaniga’s “The Science Behind What Makes Us Unique.” September 8, 2008.
  9. Beck M. High technology for low vision. The Wall Street Journal. September 9, 2008:D1.
  10. Lindley G. Accessing the “Far World”: a new Age of Connectivity. 2007. The_Hearing_Review/Accessing_the_Far_World_Hearing_Review.pdf

Correspondence can be addressed to HR at [email protected] or Douglas Beck at .

Citation for this article:

Beck DL, Harvey MA. Traditional and Nontraditional Communication and Connectivity. Hearing Review. 2008;16(1):30-33.