On Speeding Up Podcasts

In an article on The Verge, John Lagomarsino issues an order: “Stop listening to podcasts at 1.5x”. This is one of those prescriptive articles that bubble up to the surface from time to time, the digital “get off my lawn” rants that tell people that there is One Right Way to do something. A while back, Steve Guttenberg, writing at CNet, told people how they should listen to music; now it’s time for podcasts.

It’s one thing to enjoy a leisure activity or art form, it’s another to tell people how they should enjoy it. It’s haughty, presumptive, and just plain aggressive. It tells readers that they are too stupid, that they Are Doing It Wrong.

Since the article mentions Marco Arment’s podcast app Overcast, Arment replied, saying “Listen to podcasts at whatever speed you want”. The difference between the tone of the two articles is obvious. In the first, you read things like:

“you need to stop listening to podcasts sped up to 1.5x.”

The author takes a couple of examples of professionally produced podcasts, showing how their pauses are important, how they are part of the “producer’s intention.” He’s not wrong, but he’s wrong.

Because, after all, there’s no way you can match the “producer’s intention” when listening to podcasts. You may be in your car, paying attention to the road; you may be on your commute or working out; you may be in bed, listening before you sleep. Is Mr Lagormasino going to tell you that you’re doing it wrong? “Hey, you, stop the car, wake up, LISTEN TO THE PODCAST THE WAY YOU’RE SUPPOSED TO!”

As for Mr. Arment, he’s more open-minded. He starts by explaining that he’s a coffee purist, and how he listens to music on “what I can confidently say are the best headphones in the world.” (He listens to Phish, apparently; so he’s not perfect.) And he says:

“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.”

What Arment did in Overcast is introduce a speed feature that doesn’t make podcasts sound like Alvin and the Chipmunks. Part of his feature removes silence and pauses, allowing people to get a speed boost without the voices changing much. The other part of his feature speeds up voices with no pitch change. Together, they let me listen to podcasts at around 1.5x (the speed varies in Overcast, because of the silence removal). As Arment concludes:

“If the option to speed up podcasts lets people listen to more podcasts, everyone wins.”

That’s exactly what it allows me to do. My time is limited, and this feature has made a world of difference to me.

So, if you want to listen to podcasts sped up, go ahead. If you don’t, then don’t. But don’t go preaching to people that your way is the right way; because you’re not right.