December 14, 2016
“Don’t Sit So Close to the Speed TV . . . You’ll Hurt Your Eyes”
by Ryan Harrington
The book is dead. We know that. It died pandering to the snapchat generation. Or it died along with some of our favorite bookstores. Or it died when people started to only read coloring books. Or books are still on life support, but definitely dying. Either way, all talk about books these days seems to involve their degradation and death.
A trend piece in the New York Times has offered us a much-needed break from all of that. Not because it has anything to do with books, but because it describes the death and degradation in our habits of streaming audio and video, too. Christopher Mele’s tech article, “Too Many Favorite Shows? Take Them In At High Speed,” takes as its subject the phenomena known as “speed watching” and “speed listening” — that is, consuming content on fast forward with the ultimate goal of digesting one’s favorite shows and podcasts in less time.
Some speed freaks claim that they’ve mastered the technique to the point that they can watch their favorite shows at exactly twice the speed they were meant to be played. They tend to think of this as a learned skill: start creeping along on the training wheels of 1.2 times the intended speed, and soon you’ll be doin’ wheelies around the living room, watching TV in double time.
Are you the only dud on the block who hasn’t thought of this? Mele writes:
It’s not clear how widely the practice has been adopted. In an informal poll on Twitter, David Chen, a host and producer of the movie and television podcast “Slashfilmcast,” asked, “Do you ever listen to podcasts or watch TV/films at a faster speed than intended?”
Of 1,505 responses, 79 percent chose the response “No, it’s an abomination,” while 16 percent said they did so for podcasts, and a total of 5 percent said they did so for films, television and podcasts.
In the era of binge-watching television shows, this savvy tactic could cumulatively save viewers several hours over a set. But at what cost? Sheesh. It must neuter comedy completely. It must turn a dramatic orchestra swell into a wave to wet the ankles. It also poses strange philosophical questions like “If I watch a film in double-time, am I really watching that film?”
This, to me, feels like a more difficult question than any posed by the print-versus-e-book debate. It also feels like the strange next step in our general refusal to develop our critical capacities, and instead seek out tailor-made content with convenience of consumption as the main consideration.
Ryan Harrington is an editor at Melville House.