Why I don’t watch videos or listen to podcasts

I have the attention span of a particularly inattentive and distractible goldfish. I’d usually rather read than watch, since I can take it in at my own pace, which is fast by default, and often liable to get even faster and skip paragraphs until I spot something that catches my eye. I already try to absorb way too much, so my tendency is to browse feeds looking for nuggets rather than slogging through every word of every new post out there.

Now think of the way video works. While it is technically possible to skip ahead (in some players), it’s not feasible to quickly skip bits while maintaining any kind of overview of what you’re jumping over. The upshot: if you’re going to put out 2 hour(!) video which documents a debate on OS X vs Vista, don’t be surprised when people don’t notice it.

Remember the bit in Microserfs where they discover they can watch closed captioned movies in fast forward?

There are some things I do take the time to watch. The Show with Ze Frank is one. Ze has it right on three counts.

  1. Each episode is compelling, beautiful, intelligent and devastatingly funny. Unmissable stuff.
  2. They’re short. 2 minutes. The common assumption seems to be that people want 30 or 60 minutes of content to feel like they’re getting value from it. It’s probably a TV mentality, and the web is not like that. Give me bite sized pieces of goodness.
  3. They’re transcribed. If I need to find an episode about hotel room checkout etiquette, thanks to the transcription in the zefrank wiki, I can not only do a text search to find that episode, I can browse the content to find the bit I was thinking of in about 3 seconds flat rather than having to watch the whole 2 minutes.

Transcription is key here. In Ze’s case he has a big enough following that his fanbase transcribes them for fun. If you’re putting up a podcast, consider either crowdsourcing it like that, transcribing it yourself, or a opting for a service like CastingWords. For $0.42 per minute of audio (another reason to keep the length down) you can have Mechanical Turk’s hordes of internet monkeys transcribe it for you. That’s a service I’ll be using if I ever make the leap into podcasting.

I’m not planning to podcast though. I opened four tabs in Firefox just while writing the opening sentence about goldfish.

7 Comments

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  1. Sounds a lot like my way of working, and DigiDave’s, which I referred to in comments on my recent “Web 2.0 quicksand” post. I knew we had a lot in common. The question is, how many FF tabs do you have open on average at one time? :-P

    I have to say that longer podcasts are a struggle for me. Not only that, but I tend to listen to them on a train, when I may also want to be reading, which makes it impossible to listen to and absorb a speaking voice which is attempting to educate or entertain me.

    The IBM Shortcuts series is pretty good, as each episode is (as the name implies) short.

    I haven’t got into videocasts at all… but I’ll be sure to check out Ze Frank now.

    Incidentally, I’m sure you’d have just as dedicated a fanbase as Ze Frank if you turned your hand to podcasting. Right now, the fanbase around the world is debating your interest in rock balancing, with particular reference to the topic of whether you will be entering competitions once you’ve mastered it (as you undoubtedly will).

    Comment by andyp — February 1, 2007 #

  2. Roo, you’re quite right that podcasts don’t allow you to take things at your own pace, and a lot of the time reading is simply more efficient. I find, though, that there are times of day when I just want to give my reading eyes a rest and listen instead. There is some compelling content about (such as the EconTalk podcast that Richard Brown and I keep raving about) which I find hard to find substitutes for in writing. It’s so much easier to transfer emotion and character via podcasts: only the best writers are able to do this well via words alone. Having said all that, I only manage to listen to 1-2 hours a week: it is an activity bounded by time.

    Vodcasts are rare anyway (or at least good ones), so it’s hard to comment on them in the general case yet. My observation so far has been that there’s some compelling content out there (e.g. TEDtalks), but you have to search hard for it.

    Comment by Andrew Ferrier — February 1, 2007 #

  3. I always intend to download podcasts to my iPod and listen to them in the car, but my attention to that matter flags as soon as I think about it.

    Comment by kellyd — February 1, 2007 #

  4. I agree, the attention needed to enjoy audio or video does not fit with Digi Daves Continuous Partial Attention
    Podcasts never make it to my ipod and my ipod only gets listened to walking from the car to the office, which is when I need a blasting tune to prepare me for the politics. I am having a wade through youtube and co at the moment but do keep wanting to fast forward to the ‘good bits’.

    Comment by epredator — February 3, 2007 #

  5. I just remembered that I wrote an article trying to analyse some of this a while back: http://www.andrewferrier.com/blog/2006/09/21/media-consumption-control/

    Comment by Andrew Ferrier — February 3, 2007 #

  6. As you said, Ze’s ‘cast is, like, less than five minutes. Even unmedicated, most folks should probably be able to work their way through it.

    Do you have trougle making it through novels? The ‘boring bits’ would be a slog, I would think, for someone with attention difficulties. . .

    I’m starting to think we *all* have ‘microwave syndrome’ though. Remember when making a cup of tea required boiling water in a kettle? Now, two minutes in the microwave and I’m grumbling that it is taking too long.

    Comment by Imagine — February 4, 2007 #

  7. I actually don’t find it hard to read novels. I read very quickly, but immerse myself in them in a different way than most blogs or podcasts would allow. Probably a quality thing; the very best writers never get boring.

    I did recently get very fed up with The Earth is Flat, but that doesn’t count as a novel. :-)

    Good point on the microwave though. I do think our sense of entitlement to time has been growing as our pace of life has increased, and our sensitivity to having our time wasted is heightened.

    Comment by Roo — February 4, 2007 #

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