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RAPID FIRE CONSUMPTION: Are we sacrificing quality for quantity?

In the digital era, it seems our day-to-day lives are dominated by an exponentially rising amount of content all vying for our attention. But along with this content, there is also software readily available that allows us to consume this content at a faster rate.

That pesky 45-page PDF you’ve been putting off reading? You can speedread it with Squirt. Those Breaking Bad episodes you need to catch up on before you and your mates have a season finale viewing party? You can watch it at 1.5x playback speed using a Chrome add-on.

We only have 24 hours in a day. And tools that allow us to accelerate media consumption provide a workaround to the unfortunate fact that there seems to be an infinite amount of content out there and not enough time to consume it.

Image: Silly dog pretends to read books fast. Read on to find out if golden retrievers are at all relevant (no promises).

A 2018 study suggests this is harmless and the benefits outweigh the costs. In the study, researchers found boosting the speed of psychology lectures reduced the possibility of mind-wandering and did not impact understanding.

I’m sure at least some of us can recall a time back in our university days when we had a bunch of unwatched lectures piling up on a to-do list, and the content that had been studied was dwarfed by the amount that hadn’t been touched. The obvious solution: watch all the lectures on 2x playback speed – after all, a basic understanding of the concepts covered in class is better than nothing, right?


The downside to this supposedly streamlined way of getting information into our minds: surface-level recaps of whatever it is we’re consuming are not the same. Without the time to really dive into a book, article, or video, we might be consuming more, but understanding less, and enjoyment takes a backseat in favour of sheer volume.

Video: Obnoxious example of increased content delivery speed. Spoiler alert - it's awful.

While speeding up a lecture won’t necessarily impact your understanding of the content, it’s an entirely different story when it comes to retention. A 1989 study looked at the impact of speeding up speech and found that as speed increased, comprehension suffered due to the information not making it to the long-term memory. The researchers concluded that for information to be imprinted in the long-term memory, deeper analysis and detail is required during the information acquisition process.


The issue with constantly hunting for ways to make our lives more efficient is this can mean missing the nuances present in the things we watch, read, or listen to. Maybe you’re speed-reading this blog post at this second and you won’t even notice if I slip in an extra nonsensical word. Gigglemonster.

Video: Please leave Vivaldi alone. (*editor comment: I actually don't hate this?)

Our relentless need for more is perhaps indicative of our misplaced priorities when it comes to media consumption. A quick search online reveals a bunch of listicles and guides to squeeze the maximum volume of content into every single minute we have to spare, even if it means we sacrifice enjoyment and retention and lose the essence of the original content.

So where do we sit on all this? No doubt there will be a time when you’ll need to speed-read a crucial report before an important meeting, and if the tech is available for you to do that, by all means, go for it. But maybe when you have the option to take an extra second to sit down and really appreciate a piece of content in real time, you should.

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