Should we listen to podcasts on double-speed?

Afterthoughts: Rules of Civility by Amor Towles

Retain your childishness

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For as long as I have been consuming podcasts, or audio content for that matter, it never occurred to me that I could or should listen to them at 2x or higher speed. This idea has been floated in periodically in the twitter communities that I float in, and I found the proposition to be highly polarising. On one camp, you have its advocates, the “consume-more-hence-learn-more” camp, and on the other side, there are the “stop-and-smell-the-roses-camp”. My allegiances are for the latter, and for reasons that one might expect and for ones that are not immediately obvious.

Single-speed audio-listening assists in comprehension. This is the case in my experience. I have tried numerous times over the last few months to listen on speeds faster than 1x, and in many cases, I find myself re-listening to parts, if not the whole podcast. Most of the time, when I listen to podcasts, it is to give my mind something to do while completing mindless activities e.g. chores, running, etc. Even in that situation, I find myself switching my attention onto said mindless activity for just a five seconds, say to navigate a puddle, and I lose the context of the conversation. At this point, I either pull out the phone to rewind, or resign to try to infer what was said. Given this type of interference happens at least once a minute, it gets rather annoying. With single-speed, however, there is much more slack built-in, it’s ok if you miss 5 seconds, they will have only said 5 words. With double of even 2.5x speed, you really have to focus your attention precisely to ensure comprehension.

Part of the appeal of a podcast is that you are “involved” in a conversation with the guests, double speed ruins this. Many are familiar with the distortion of voices that is associated with speeding up an audio file, I would wager to say that most dislike the effect. I recognise, for most people, the primary purpose of a podcast is to learn something, or to take something away. Hence why the idea of listening to them at a fast speed has become popular. My concern with this mindset is that it is outcome-focussed, over being process-focussed. Yes it is great to be learning things from podcasts, but the beauty of the form is being able to place yourself in between the host and guest(s). There is value in the process of listening to podcast is there not? In my opinion, there is.

I am not saying that there is absolutely no place for double-speed listening of audio content, I am just arguing it should not be the norm. If you are a university student needing to catch up on lectures, by all means, double or triple speed through your lectures. If you are, however, listening to a podcast for leisure, then there is little reason for it to be played on anything more than normal speed.

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