This article first appeared in the Spring 2008 issue of the CSA Newsletter.
SmallTalk by Casa Futura Technologies is the latest reincarnation of the Edinburgh Masker. Thanks to 21st century technology, the unit is a little smaller than an iPod and with the Bluetooth earphone and speaker is almost inconspicuous. The device could easily be mistaken for a cell phone.
For those of you unfamiliar with electronic anti-stuttering devices, they utilize a technology called Altered Auditory Feedback (AAF) which relays the speaker’s voice back to them in an attempt to block or ‘mask’ their voice. The theory goes, we as stutterers are better able to speak fluently when we can’t hear our own voices.
Some background on me . . . I’m not what you’d call a severe stutterer, more of a mild to moderate. So I may not be the best candidate for a masking device. Nevertheless, I was curious and wanted to give it a try. I accepted an invitation by Casa Futura owner, Thomas David Kehoe, to try out the new device on a free trial on the condition that I write a review.
Worth noting, I’m skeptical by nature, so SmallTalk had to perform big time in order to convince me of its usefulness.
It felt awkward the first time I turned it on. But once adjusted, I got the hang of it pretty quick. It seemed okay around the house, but how would it work in a stressful situation?
Day 3: The big test
Armed with the Bluetooth earphone and microphone I walked into our weekly departmental meeting at work, where our department manager and 10 colleagues gather each week around a boardroom table and discuss recent projects and issues. I intentionally left the SmallTalk device on the table in front of me instead of putting it away in my pocket, hoping someone would inquire about it. Sure enough, somebody took the bait, asking, “Bern, what the heck is that thing?” I spent most of the next hour explaining the device and answering questions about stuttering.
Not once did I block throughout the meeting. To be fair, I have been fluent in similar situations in the past. But there was a difference this time. Perhaps the unit’s greatest feature and strongest selling point is that it inspires a high level of confidence. You know how athletes refer to being ‘in the zone’? For me, I felt like I was in a ‘speaking zone’ and could have gone on talking, without blocking, indefinitely.
With the unit on, it’s difficult the gauge the volume of your voice, so you tend to overcompensate by speaking louder. With the Bluetooth device, which is what I used extensively (I couldn’t be bothered with the headset) the device picks up sound from everywhere (not just the user’s voice). Hearing ambient noise and voices amplified and distorted through the device can make it uncomfortable to wear for a long period of time. In my opinion, SmallTalk is ideally suited to situations in which one anticipates speaking the majority of the time. This is not to say it is not useful in normal conversations. No doubt, over time, the user can adapt. Worth noting, there is a phone hook-up, but unfortunately I can’t comment on because it didn’t come with the test unit.
The Smalltalk device promises to improve fluency 75%. I don’t dispute that claim. The unit certainly helped me achieve greater fluency. Keep in mind; this was for a short period. I remember reading somewhere that the initial effects of an anti-stuttering device can wear off over time. Even the manufacturer would admit that the device is not a cure-all, but rather one part of a multi-faceted strategy to achieving fluency. For those willing to sacrifice comfort for fluency, the SmallTalk device might be just the ticket. Not cheap, coming in at $2400, but what price freedom?
Casa Futura Technologies