The Unfettered Ear

Why do most people recoil when a recording of their own voice is played back to them? I’ve always found it strange. Like if a phone connection goes spotty and my conversing partner and I find ourselves in one of those weird feedback vortexes where everything we say is repeated back to us on a two-second delay, it’s pretty much a conversation ender, guaranteed. I find it impossible to maintain a train of speech when my thoughts start looping back into my own ears. My laugh, I’ll start to note, is tinny and affected; my  inflections, cloying and unrefined. And I sound like I have a raging head cold.

When subjected to any sort of recording of my voice, my reaction is the same: I cringe, and then I become depressed.

From what I’ve seen, this is pretty much a universal reaction. If a person hears him or herself on the radio, or an answering machine, or a video recording, he or she will inevitably cry to whoever is nearby, “I don’t really sound like THAT, do I?”

Of COURSE you sound like that! You sound exactly like that, every moment. All the time. To everyone.

I need to know why this happens. And I’m after a scientific explanation, here, not a psycho-emotional one. It’s just too simplistic to say that we become discomfited by externalizations of ourselves because we are accustomed only to filtered versions. People don’t have the same violent reaction to, say, touching themselves or viewing a photograph of themselves. (Not all the time anyway, although when the lights are unkind, the angles skewed, we might momentarily slip into despair.) I’m soliciting theories.

PS: I wrote a letter of complaint to Subway about the hair-in-the-sandwich incident (see: Random Social Experiment: How Much Stuff Can Erin Get For Free By Writing Letters Of Complaint) and they are sending me coupons for free sandwiches! Success. I am also considering writing Taco Bell a general letter of complaint, as I can pretty safely infer that I’ve consumed countless hairs and other bodily effluvia too terrible to mention in my years patronizing that establishment.

-Erin J. Bernard


One thought on “The Unfettered Ear

  1. Lisa says:

    Hi ya! I don’t have any scientific explanations for you, but I totally know what you mean! I hate the sound of my own voice! I’m glad you are looking into this- let me know what you find out.

    Also, way to go on the free Subway sandwiches! Complaining in writing worked! I definitely think you should complain to Taco Hell about hairs and messing up large orders since that happens ALL the time (getting chicken soft tacos instead of crunchy ones for example). Oh, and mention how you specifically asked for hot sauce and didn’t get any. Thanks! 🙂

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