What about little microphones? What if everyone swallowed them, and they played the sound of our heartbeats through little speakers, which could be in the pouches of our overalls? When you skateboarded down the street at night you could hear everyone’s heartbeat and they could hear yours, sort of like sonar?
Being able to hear your own heartbeat all the time can be quite unsettling. I thought I was getting used to my heartbeat being louder, but I’ve been noticing it more again recently. I don’t know why. Anyway, I was interested to read the above thought from Oskar, the nine-year-old protagonist of Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, by Jonathan Safran Foer. Other people have been able to hear my heartbeat when they’ve been sitting at a reasonable distance away from me, which is a bit disconcerting.
I’m not sure whether everyone being able to hear everyone else’s heartbeat would be a good thing. People who were attracted to each other might realise it sooner, which could be a good thing, but not if they were attracted to the wrong person. If the feeling wasn’t mutual it would be awkward, because people wouldn’t be able to hide their feelings very well (unless their heartbeats were unaffected by attraction to people – I’m not sure whether increased heart rate is really a scientifically proven and/or inevitable sign of being attracted to someone or not), however, it would also spare people from wondering whether or not the feeling was mutual. This theory, is, of course, fraught with pitfalls – what if one or both parties has just been rushing around? What if one person was nervous as opposed to attracted to the other? Maybe people would just be forced to admit their feelings outright, to avoid any confusion.
Another possible advantage of everyone being able to hear everyone else’s heartbeat might be that there would be fewer violent crimes. I’m not sure, but I think that if people could hear other people being alive they might think twice about killing or harming them. People being what they are though, this deterrent would probably only last until people got used to being able to hear other people’s heartbeats at the most. I suppose if someone was determined to hurt a person they would just block out the sound.
People would know if they made other people nervous, which could be a good or a bad thing. Frightening bosses or teachers might modify their behaviour, feeling guilty about making other people feel so scared, especially if they didn’t mean to be scary. On the other hand, those that are deliberately frightening might use fear as a control mechanism even more than they do already, if they were really sure of its effect.
The microphones would have to be switched off at night, because hearing your own heartbeat is not conducive to sleep in my experience. I suspect that some people find listening to a loved one’s heartbeat comforting, though, so perhaps at night people could have the option just to listen to someone else’s heartbeart and not their own. There could even be a telephone lines or websites for people who lived alone and/or were lonely to be able to tune in and listen to someone else’s heartbeat. Perhaps that would be a bit too weird.
Lives could be saved! Relationships could be made simpler! Why didn’t anyone think of this before?
Maybe because on a practical level it would, as Oskar later points out, make the world an even noisier place than it is already:
…the place in the hospital where babies are born would sound like a crystal chandelier in a houseboat…And at the finish line at the end of the New York Marathon it would sound like war.
Can you imagine? It could drive everyone, or at least a large proportion of people, insane.
Also, if heartbeats were to be used as a method of communication “like sonar” people would need to be able to interpret other people’s heartbeats very accurately indeed. Otherwise, people could become even more confused by other people, their emotions and the effects of these emotions than they are already! Accuracy of interpretation would of course also be of paramount importance from a medical perspective. Everyone being able to hear everyone else’s heartbeats could save lives, but, on the other hand, misdiagnoses could abound and people might spend all their time anxiously listening to their own and other people’s heartbeats worrying that something was wrong.
Perhaps, overall, it’s just as well that most people keep their heartbeats to themselves. If you really want to hear someone’s heartbeat you could always ask someone you know really, really, well if you could listen to theirs or just put your fingers in your ears and if you listen very carefully you might be able to hear your own. You can come round to my house and listen to mine if you like, but only if it’s audible from a sufficiently English distance.