I have a million things to do every day. (OK, maybe more like 87, but that's plenty for the 16 wakeful hours I have.) I'm betting you do, too. And as time has grown more and more precious, people like you and me are deciding that listening to podcasts or other audio at regular 1x speed just doesn't fly anymore. They're using apps to speed up the content, sometimes by as much as 5x. Apps also can search for and remove pauses.
I don't know how to feel about this.
The benefits of rushing
On the one hand, like I said, time is the new gold. If I speed up my audio, I could use the extra minutes to listen to even more information, which theoretically could advance my skills, career, and general understanding of the world and others. I could pursue other activities I like or spend a few more meaningful minutes with my kids. Or I could just hit pause on life and spend the time meditating, relaxing, and understanding myself. That chance to get rid of stress has real physical and emotional value.
But here's the thing...
I double majored in music in college (oboe and vocal performance). So art has a fantastic meaning for me. I understand that, behind the scenes of every audio production, there are people who put incredible thought into each sound, every transition and element of pace. They pour some of their heart and personality into the final product. If I ignore that effort, I'm essentially slapping them in the face and telling them their vision didn't matter and, by extension, that they don't matter.
Even if you acknowledge that audio is art, speeding up audio or removing pauses can affect how you interpret that art. John Lagomarsino of The Verge, for example, notes that the uncomfortableness you might feel with a lengthy pause might not feel so dramatic. The intent of the artist becomes debatable.
Lagomarsino also hits on a practical, bottom-line reason why this focus on art isn't something a business leader should brush under the rug. Analyzing a quick version of The War of the Worlds, he writes:
"There's no tension, no pacing, no anticipation. Sure, you know academically what's happening there, but you don't feel it. And that was the whole purpose of The War of the Worlds; its urgency and real-life feel is essential to its success. And in this age of podcasting, shows are relying more and more on the artistry of storytelling for their success."
Why the reliance on stories? Because storytelling engages the whole brain, making information memorable and engaging. If you don't tap into this aspect of the audio, your experience simply isn't going to be as intense and, subsequently, it's probably going to be harder to recall. And if you're not going to remember what you've heard, what's the point?
And here's my final concern. When you listen to audio sped up, your brain has to process information faster. It can do this, of course, but the overdrive in mental processing takes energy. If I don't let my brain downshift even for an activity that's supposed to be low-key, I might be putting myself at risk for hitting mental fatigue faster. Not exactly something you'd want if you've got lots of other tasks to finish or decisions to make later.
In the end, there might not be a real right or wrong to audio listening so much as there are caveats. For example, listening to fast audio when you're zoned on the couch with nothing else going on is probably easier for your brain to handle than if you're listening in your hectic office where stimuli are at every turn. Similarly, some content is more complex, and there are biological differences in how fast people can process auditory information, too. So I won't say speed apps are evil. Just accept that you might need to be flexible with your use of them to get the most out of what you're listening to. If you feel better and remember the content well after a particular piece of audio is done, your speed likely was perfect.