Here’s a post that begins, provocatively:
Reading is dead.
The nature of books has evolved. Society and technology have changed. Forcibly, our approach to reading has taken on new forms to accommodate a different way of life.
Obviously that first line is just bait. The article isn’t even arguing this position. I’d say the author is cheating, sticking a line like that in the front of the article and then going off in a different direction. But click through if you wish, read the whole thing, and see if you agree.
But it’s the section on audiobooks that caught my eye. Here’s that entire section:
There is some skepticism behind audio, as some people feel that it doesn’t provide the same level of immersion as reading. A study notes that you can absorb information almost as well through audio as reading (whether they’re fully equal is another topic of debate). In some cases, the narrator’s tone can even help listeners to better understand the meaning behind texts.
The issue with audio, though, is that humans are prone to multi-tasking. If you’re typing up an email or cooking a meal while listening to the narrator, the message can become lost. Personally, I like using audiobooks when I’m less likely to be distracted, such as when waiting around or going for a walk.
Lately, speeding through audiobooks has become popular. Some people zip through a book at 2x, or sometimes even 3x the regular speed. While they claim that no information is lost, should we be approaching material this way?
A book is not simply an open box waiting to be checked off. Going through a book is an experience — one that requires absorbing the material, reflecting on it, and coming out having learned something new. Similar to how creative moments happen during quiet periods, our insights from books happen during periodic pauses.
I have problems with all of this, probably because I’m not interested in audiobooks as a medium by which to learn stuff, but as a medium by which to relieve the tedium of long drives, extended sessions of weeding, and walking the dogs. I don’t particularly care about absorbing information , even if I’m listening to nonfiction; and possibly a certain limit to the “immersion” and the “experience” is desirable if one is listening to a book while driving.
I thought I had a pretty good imagination, but it’s hard to imagine listening to an audiobook while also writing unrelated emails. Is there actual evidence that anybody actually does this on a routine basis? If you, yourself, routinely listen to audiobooks while also writing emails, watching television, holding a conversation with someone on an unrelated topic, reading the newspaper, or anything else remotely similar, please drop that into a comment. Failing to see a comment like that will be taken as evidence that this kind of multitasking, where people are simultaneously putting verbal attention into multiple unrelated tasks, does not actually occur.
I’d agree that “going through a book is an experience,” but not that this experience necessarily involves “learning something new.” I certainly wasn’t listening to the Echoes trilogy to learn something new, and offhand I would suggest that this may not be the primary motivation for anyone who is listening to fiction.
But the primary thing is … speeding through audiobooks? Really?
Are people really listening to audiobooks at two or three times the normal rate? That seems remarkable, and I can’t quite see how that would work. I’m trying to imagine it, for fiction or nonfiction, and frankly I just can’t see it. For fiction, surely that would ruin the experience, even if you don’t define “experience” as including “learning something new.” And for nonfiction, surely speed-listening would almost entirely prevent you from remembering the material?
Well, maybe not. I’m a pretty visual person and never got much out of lectures while I was a student. Maybe someone more oriented toward lectures would find speed-listening a viable option, even though I find the idea mind-bogglingly weird.