Chris Lakin

Thoughts on listening to media at increased speeds.

Speedometer. Yes, I know, I've practiced drawing so very much.

I enjoy watching and listening to things at increased speeds— it makes content more engaging. To watch anything at 1.0x speed makes me squirm.

I've saved hundreds of hours, if not more from speed listening. (Though I did probably ‘reinvest’ the time I saved to watch more science videos.)  

What are the chances that the speed a video or podcast happens to be in the speed that's best for you, anyway?  


Learning the skill

Good audio is essential for speed listening. This is both on the side of listening to media with good audio (and familiar accents), and also on the side of having a quiet environment around you. Headphones also seem to be essential—without them, the tiny echo of speakers seems to drastically reduce my ability to comprehend high-speed voices.

Once you’re set up, get into the habit of always pushing yourself just a little faster. Skipping back to understand speech is encouraged. You’re trying to balance listening to the media generally faster with skipping back to hear any speech you miss. If you’re not skipping back, you’re probably not at your limit, nor are you growing your ability.

Much of the skill of speed-listening is just being able to parse and guess speech when it’s fast. Maybe you can understand the actual concepts at 3x speed, but you don't yet understand speech at 3x. The skill took a while—a few months if not two years—to develop but speech became much more clear over time.


Personal Experience

Videos

Two or three years ago I started watching all YouTube videos at 1.3-times speed, then 1.5x, 2.0x, etc. It’s just been progressive. Improvement seems to be logarithmic, but not as significantly as I would’ve thought beforehand. Currently up to ~3.3x on average.

The fastest I'll watch is 4x or 5x on particularly slow content. This of course correlates against what could be referred to as 'novel information density'. And then past 5x I lose my remaining ability to comphrehend speech.

With experience, speed-listening has become so automatic that it takes a few seconds of listening to tell the difference between 1x and 2.5x. With practice, speed listening just sounds normal.

Lectures

I was fortunate enough to have most of my classes recorded this semester (2020 Fall). I chose to watch the recordings of most of them, as opposed to attending live, just so I could speed-watch. I have some classes that I’ll go up to 4x speed on, but overall the fastest net I’ll ever finish a lecture is 2x (60 minute lecture in 30 minutes).

The most common speed I’ll use is about 2.4x, and the rest of the loss of the average is due to rewinding, pausing to think, and pausing to cook (for maximum efficiency I usually cook as I watch lectures).

Again, my speed here highly correlates with ‘novel information density’.

Podcasts

I listen to podcasts: at 1.5-3x speed, which is somehow slower. This that might have more to do with that when I listen to podcasts I’m usually partially distracted, or I’m in a noisier environment.

I don't know of an iOS podcast app that goes past 3x speed unfortunately.

(I use the podcast app Pocket Casts for iOS. It's good enough.)


My speed-listening setup:



Posted 2020 July 22, last updated 2020 November 11.