Observations from Spending a Day Mute

I had dental surgery midday Wednesday. It’s totally minor; I now have a small plaster cast in my mouth and it was recommended I don’t talk until Friday to speed up healing.

So I haven’t talked all Wednesday night (where I went to a birthday party for a bit) and all day today at work.

I used the following tools to communicate:
Virtual Voice, a text-to-speech on my Android Phone apparently designed for deaf people.
Slack. Which we normally use at Occipital. When someone would turn to me and speak, I’d listen and then turn and send them an answer on Slack, and they’d either look over my shoulder or be on their way back to their computer if it was the start of a longer conversation that required us to both be sitting in front of our work machines.

Here are the raw observations:

– When you start using hand gestures or a text-to-speech app to communicate, everyone accidentally assumes you’re deaf (even when they know you aren’t) and will start playing charades themselves.

– It’s a bad habit that I tend to interrupt and talk over people impulsively. This (obviously) made me listen to people more. I’d turn away if I was switching from active listening to passive listening mode. Passive listening meaning “I’m looking up or typing the answer to what you’re saying as you’re still speaking”.

– First contact with new people who aren’t aware of my condition is unsettling for both parties. I make eye contact and then immediately open my phone and begin typing away. This obviously comes off as massively rude and I felt shitty every time. I’m supposed to avoid operating heavy machinery while the post-op painkillers, so I’ve been cabbing (via Lyft) back and forth to work. I’d have the message “sorry I can’t talk, I had dental surgery” queued up in my text-to-speech program so I could avoid the awkward moment. Especially when you’re getting in the cab at first and you’re supposed to have the initial transaction of “is this the right car?”

– I tend to speak lots and fast. About 30% of what comes out of my mouth is goofy witticism fluff. This impulse is hard to satisfy when you have a 15 second+ lag on communication when you’re hanging out in a group. Though sometimes it comes off as Fridge Logic, which can be funnier. Sometimes.

– As people I communicated adjusted to my predicament, they got better at constructing their communications as multiple choice questions, e.g. “Give me one finger if you want to play Heart of the Swarm or two fingers for Legacy of the Void”.

– When I did the survey of Android Text-To-Speech tools, I was surprised to note all of them had a single text buffer. I found myself wanting 3-5, or a queue of “most recently used” messages or some sort of autocomplete of previous messages. I could manage all of these mentally, and it was frustrating to feel limited by the app.

– As a show of solidarity/mockery, several coworkers got out speech synthesizers and we shot the shit at the end of the day. I appreciated this.

I look forward to speaking again tomorrow. Though I’d be tempted to take a vow of silence again.

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