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Audio Content Speed Adjustments

Marco Arment writes:

Enjoying the full experience of all media and preserving “what the artist intends” is a romantic ideal, but it’s both overrated and unrealistic in reality. Not everything is that good, not everyone cares that much, and not all media produced is perfect and immutable.

I don’t entirely disagree with Marco’s points here, but I do believe there needs to be some nuance in the conversation. Marco is talking primarily about podcasts, but this debate goes on for other mediums as well.

In as far as podcasts are concerned, he’s right. For the vast majority of shows, it really doesn’t matter how you listen to them. Even with that being the case, i always found that increasing the speed on shows was so painfully unnatural that it distracted from the content. The brilliance of Marco’s Smart Speed feature in Overcast is that it is virtually transparent, for all practical purposes, to the listener. It is the sort of time saving functionality I have long hoped for in a podcast client. However you decide to speed up your podcast audio, the crucial point is that podcasting, in the majority of cases, is not a performance art; it’s a conversation.

That being said, I have had lengthy debates with friends about the merits of speeding up audio books. People don’t tend to speed up movies, television, or music. You certainly could do so, but there would be elements of the entertainment you’d be missing out on, such as drama, emotional impact, and the nuances of a performance. It is my belief that this holds true for audio books as well, as part of the experience is the narrator’s performance. Some will disagree, most vehemently. I can even hear a few of my friends groaning right now as they read this. (Sorry, guys.)

In the end, it isn’t a matter of whether one way is right or wrong. It’s about being aware of the trade off you are making. If you choose to listen to something at a faster speed, that is fine. The benefit you are receiving is more time to consume more content. But don’t try to kid yourself that there isn’t a price to pay. Sometimes, the price is worth it, and sometimes, it isn’t. That threshold will be different for everyone. As for me, I’m happy to use Smart Speed to shorten podcast running times. I would not be willing to do the same with audio books. The price of losing some of the experience of the performance is just not worth it.

Make the decision for yourself, fully aware of the cost to benefit ratio. There is one. It may not matter to you, but never forget that it is there. One day, you might find that it suddenly does.