Earlier this year, Slate moved its offices from Manhattan to downtown Brooklyn. This turned out to be a unique blessing—I reside in Brooklyn, and my daily commute has been cut nearly in half. But it’s also been a very special curse, because I’m a podcast listener, and the type of podcast listener who really only has time to listen to podcasts when she’s traveling from point A to point B. Now my podcast listening experience was going to be cut nearly in half, too, and it would take me forever to get through my many favorite shows. Right?
Wrong. While yes, it does take me a bit longer to power through my delightfully endless rotation of podcast episodes than it did before, it doesn’t take me that much longer. And that’s because I listen to my podcasts at 1.5x the normal speed.
For the uninitiated—and based on the number of minds that have been “blown” within my informal survey of podcast listeners, there seem to be quite a few folks who are unaware of this feature—the major podcast listening apps allow you to adjust the speed of your shows. On iTunes, for instance, one can listen at .5x, 1.5x, and 2x the speed; Stitcher has all of those speeds, plus a 1.25x option. And I’ve now learned that there’s a fancier shortcut to cutting down your listening time with “Smart Speed,” a feature of the Overcast app that seamlessly edits out silences without affecting the pace of the audio. (Apparently, this is very effective, and it calculates exactly how much time you’ve saved—one avid podcast scanner says that Smart Speed has saved him “an extra 98 hours beyond speed adjustments alone.”)
For some—namely, those who work in radio/podcasting—this habit of screwing with podcast rhythm is just shy of sacrilege. “If you like a podcast enough to listen to it, you should listen to it at the speed it was meant to be listened to!” one such colleague told me. He argues that you’ll “understand, retain, and enjoy less” when listening at high speed. (To that I say: Nah. If anything, it makes me a more attentive consumer. Plus, if I miss something the first time around, that’s what the 15-second rewind on the iTunes app is for.) Another coworker describes the practice as “evil,” citing her job of carefully crafting and curating the listener experience, only to have it “skimmed” by monsters such as myself. These are all very fair and logical points. And as someone who is the host of her own podcast and knows good and well how much time and effort goes into creating an episode, you’d think I’d be wholeheartedly on their side, or at the very least feel a teensy bit bad about rushing through one.
But there are too many great podcasts! As of this writing, I have 12 different shows in my rotation that generally put out new episodes at least once a week. Five of them clock in at anywhere from an hour to almost two hours per episode—if I listened to them all at normal speed at the rate that I listen to them, it would take me months to get through them all. And a few, while shorter, are also timely—if I listen even a week late, it’s supremely old news. This is a common problem for podcast listeners, and is probably the greatest reason for choosing to up the ante. “1.5x till the day I die!” one person I polled proudly proclaims. “If I didn’t, I would probably have to stop listening to half the podcasts I subscribe to.”
As with most habits, there are exceptions and drawbacks. When listening to podcasts about music, pretty much everyone agrees that normal speed is the way to go; even the tiniest uptick in pacing makes a song sound “off.” Ditto if someone speaks with an accent or language you’re not so familiar with. (In that case, it may be useful to rein it in even slower, as some people do.) And a weird side-effect can be how it alters the way you hear the real world around you—like me, some folks report being a bit caught off guard when they hear their favorite hosts talk live. One colleague relayed a story in which a double-speed podcast listener claimed to have trouble interacting with people over the phone because he felt as though they were speaking too slowly.
But if one has to choose between “rushing” through episodes and cutting down the number of shows they subscribe to, why shame them for doing the former? It’s a sign that the industry is in a good place right now with a wide variety of options (are we in #peakpodcast mode?)—and listeners who will do just about anything, including purposefully make our favorite hosts sound a bit chipmunk-like, in order to consume as much of it as we can.
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