Speed ​​watching and speed listening: new cultural consumption habits in the era of acceleration

Speed ​​watching and speed listening: new cultural consumption habits in the era of acceleration
Speed ​​watching and speed listening: new cultural consumption habits in the era of acceleration

You are on the train, you are watching the latest episode of Three-body problem. But you miscalculated your move, there are only a few minutes of travel left. Finally, it’s going to be complicated. Unless you tolerate characters speaking with a slightly robotic voice and much less fluid movements… In this case, no more problem: most streaming platforms today offer the superpower of accelerating the pace of images scrolling . All you need is one click to become a fan of the practice of “speed watching”. Either watching series or films, with a speed multiplied by 1.25, 1.5 or 2. Once at the station, you still need around fifteen minutes on the metro before arriving at work. Perfect timing to listen, headphones on, to this brand new podcast on the Second World War. Here too, at a more sustained rate than the original version, which also has the advantage of eliminating silences and hesitations between sentences. Here you are practicing “speed listening”.

At work, you keep your headphones on. You need sound motivation to tackle the day. Why not a “speed song”, one of those covers of our favorite songs abounding on TikTok? With this tempo which reaches at least 150 beats per minute, there is no risk of you falling asleep at your desk. Back home, still as valiant as ever, you may want to train for the next speed reading championship (see box) by devouring the 900 pages of Moby Dick in one go. And in 2 hours 30 tops, of course…

Switch to X2

As caricatured as this example of “life at a hundred miles an hour” may seem, it is not completely extravagant. In recent years, features allowing for faster streaming of audiovisual works have multiplied. Since 2014, on iTunes / Apple Podcast, an option erases dead time in discussions and modifies the listening speed. In 2015, YouTube got started, offering to modulate the flow of its content. A few years later, Netflix took the plunge. And users of WhatsApp or other instant messaging no longer hesitate, when we send them an “Audio” that is a little too long, to switch to X2 and cut it as short as possible…

The existence of these functionalities is in itself already indicative of a public demand and/or a desire to create a need. Are they widely used? Hard to say. Concerning the phenomenon of speed watching, “there is no scientific study answering this question. At least not to my knowledge,” says Sarah Sepulchre, professor at UCLouvain. But after observing the practice among some of her students, this media and series specialist puts forward a hypothesis: “As with binge-watching (watching many episodes in a row – Editor’s note), we are always in the presence of something punctual. Just because someone speed-watches doesn’t mean they do it systematically and with all works. Certain contexts, certain films or series lend themselves to this more than others”.
Nesrine does watch content in accelerated fashion on an occasional basis. Most often to watch TV shows, tutorials or news videos on Facebook.

“It’s usually when the video seems too long,” explains the 30-year-old. This is content I could do without. By speeding up, I spend less time on it, and I still have the information.” Beyond the practical aspect (since, as Sarah Sepulchre points out, speed watching allows you to modify the format of a work and adapt it to everyday requirements), speed itself is sometimes the desired goal. . “It’s a bit difficult to explain, but the effect of speed brings a kind of relief,” describes Nesrine. It’s as if you were injected with pure, condensed information all at once. There is no downtime. Social networks are perhaps getting us used to this kind of format.”

This is indeed a notable development. On Facebook, YouTube or TikTok, “Reels” and other “Shorts” have been massively viewed for several years. These ever shorter video formats remain essential for the economic model of the platforms (each video making you want, once completed, to directly launch a new one). They contribute to the incessant demands of our digital societies which mean that, perhaps, we tolerate slowness less well than before. With the risk that leisure activities, supposed to be bubbles of temporal suspension amid the stress of professional life, will burst under the acceleration…


Another avenue to explain these phenomena of speed watching or speed listening could be that of our “digestive” relationship to content. In the United States alone, there are around 500 original series produced per year. Faced with the explosion of supply, the viewer is reduced to a bulimia that some call “culturobesity”. And binge-watching would no longer be enough for us to take in everything. Quick viewing or listening would be new ways to satisfy our appetites, further whetted by the FOMO syndrome (Fear Of Missing Out), or “the fear of missing out on something”.

The features that technology offers also flatter our desire for control. Switching to “accelerated” mode also means having the assurance of feeling in control of your time. “The rise in the consumption of audiovisual content on demand establishes a relationship with the world in which we consider that it is no longer legitimate to rely on pre-made programming, decided for you. Passivity is suspect. You have to be an actor in your life,” underlines Nicolas Marquis, sociologist at UCLouvain Saint-Louis Brussels and author of From well-being to the market of malaise, The society of personal development (PUF, 2014).

In such a society, pleasure must at all costs be profitable and help cultivate a better version of ourselves. “Personal development invites individuals to benefit from as many things as possible as long as they can be part of a personal story,” explains Nicolas Marquis. We must explore as many possibilities and experiences as possible. Consuming culture at full speed is also a way of multiplying these possibilities, of satisfying this injunction to the permanent broadening of our horizons.” In this race against time, technology can be alienating. But as with any tool, it also has another side, one where accelerating allows you to free up time to do something else, see another film, meet new people. Taking the time to slow down this time.



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