I love my headset. I got them at Costco a few years back after months of research, and hours of pestering Joe Hall and various other friends on what kind I should get, whether noise-canceling technology was actually worth the money, etc etc etc.
The fact was that I spent a lot of time on airplanes and figured it might be worth the investment to spend some money on a headset such that I might be able to hear music and my recorded interview data over the sound of the airplane engines! And sometimes it is nice to be able to sit in a shared office and have some privacy.
The long and short of my research: Noise Canceling technology requires batteries and external power, and is ultimately bulkier and heavier. Noise isolation is great because you can actually turn down the volume being sent towards your ears, they work like earplugs, and it doesn’t require additional power. And they are cheaper. But it can be a little weird because – you are totally deaf to the outside world (i.e. you can’t tell if a flight attendant is trying to get your attention), and if you eat something you can hear yourself chewing, and sometimes they don’t work so well if you are running. Mine are fine as long as the cords are hanging relatively free, since V-Moda redesigned the cables with a cloth cover.
You can plan ahead, but sometimes you have to improvise a bit to make high-tech things work once you leave home...
The V-Moda ones are especially great (not that I’ve actually compared them) because they come with a carrying case. The ones I got came with a little compact leather case that open when you pinch it, and a v-shaped cord wrapper, which was initially a little mysterious to me but now I think is the best thing ever. I want one for all of my corded accessories! Unfortunately the new ones don’t come with the v-shaped thing – they come instead with a rectangular carrying case sized for the iPhone and the iPod Touch. I don’t blame them, but as an iPod Nano owner I’m glad I got my headset earlier.
Okay so that was a long intro. Onto my sob story. I was walking home the other day from work, and I decided to listen to one of my interviews on the way, so I pulled out my Nano, and my headset. As I connect the headset to my nano, I notice that one of the silicon ear fittings is missing. I should note that this happens to me almost every plane flight – these things fall off all the time and it drives me nuts. Why I don’t have spares is beyond me, but they give you three pairs in different sizes (small, medium, large), so I just picked my size and left the other two pairs at home when I came. On a plane, this is mostly fine – I mean, where can a little black rubber thing go on a plane anyways? I’ve always found it eventually. But this time, when i pulled the headset out, I managed to drop the earfitting onto an area of the ground littered with black pebbles, bits of trash, and random grass growth… and a ditch. Yikes. Ever hopeful, I searched anyways, to no avail.
So I walked home, listening to the interview, with one ear happily isolated from noise, and the other ear listening to the interview and the caws of the maribou vulture-storks, with a piece of metal uncomfortably perched in the canal. I had thought through this situation before, and I plotted, considering my options, and wondering if I could wait for someone to bring a batch of spare fittings to me in April…
My solution: well, since noise-isolating headsets are essentially earplugs with sound coming through them, why not use earplugs? So I got out an earplug, my handy-dandy leatherman, and hollowed out the center. The leatherman, as it turns out isn’t all that useful for hollowing out the centers of things, so once I made divots on either end of the earplug, and cut it to the appropriate length, I used the pen from my Palm Centro to poke a hole through the center, such that the middle could grip well onto the headset. I think it actually works better than the silicon fitting – at least it is less likely to fall off, even though it doesn’t look nearly as slick. And now it is much easier to tell the left from the right.
It goes to say that 1) I’m pretty privileged to have the gadgets that I do have, 2) to have the options that I have with which to fix them and 3) I should have brought extra silicon fittings with me (I’m not a boy, but the boy scout motto is Be Prepared after all). But I think this also says a lot about ICTD and technology transfer in general. What happens when we take information technologies and deposit them in developing regions without a thought towards their repair and maintenance?
Eventually things break, parts get lost, and things must be repaired. And spare parts don’t exist, or even if they do exist, or can be acquired, they are difficult or too expensive to acquire. So some people improvise. Others just allow the donated equipment to lie fallow until a new donation arrives, or another benefactor comes to repair the equipment. I have seen rooms full of dead computer equipment, “computer graveyards,” in Mexico, India, Ghana, and Uganda. I like mobile phone projects because there is a rapidly growing infrastructure and ecosystem outside of our own projects to support the repair and replacement of the mobile phones we are deploying – yet the truth is that often we are using very specialized phones. So even as mobile phone project developers we must be aware of the maintainability and serviceability of our devices. At least these objects are generally familiar to mobile phone service reps! (Maybe less so the android phone and the Palm phone. The blackberry seems to have gained popularity though. Obama has given it a popularity boost out here too!) Laptops are serviceable because they can be carried to a service center. But desktops are the hardest to carry because people are afraid to move them – afraid to break them, especially with the associated heavy CRT monitors.
And so while I was able to repair my headset, I have to admit that my solution isn’t perfect – they certainly aren’t the same as they were before. Getting the technology out here is one thing – making it work over a long period of time is yet another.