I’m sure you know the feeling — you see a link to something that looks interesting, follow it, and when it turns out to be a video clip, you shake your head and kill the tab. The problem with video is it’s just too slow. But sometimes slow is OK, and maybe video can be fixed.

This was provoked by I have found a new way to watch TV, and it changes everything by Jeff Guo, which recommends watching video, by default, in fast-forward mode. The pitch is compelling, I’ll probably pick the habit up. Right now I watch almost no Web video, but maybe that’ll change. Seriously, go read Guo’s piece, it’s challenging. Out-take: “In a way, what’s happening to video recalls what happened to literature when we stopped reading aloud, together, and started reading silently, alone.”

Voice too! · Overclocked audio is one of the big features in Marco Arment’s super-successful Overcast pod-catcher; you can get through a voice presentation immensely faster than you’d think without information loss.

Which I’d known since the Nineties. Way back in the day I was working at Open Text, which at that time was pretty well 100% server-side software. Our QA lead was this brilliant guy who happened to be blind. He was one of our major assets, but most people didn’t want to sit too near him, because he did everything with audio, only speeded up by some huge factor, so there was this continuous high-pitched gabble of ultra-fast voice reading server logs and source-code listings.

Video sucks · As a method of communicating information, I mean. When you’re using the Internet to learn about what’s happening in the world, you want words in a row.

Not everyone agrees. Check this out: “The best way to tell stories in this world, where so much information is coming at us, actually is video,” Mendelsohn said. “It conveys so much more information in a much quicker period. So actually the trend helps us to digest much more information.” That’s Facebook’s Nicola Mendelsohn.

But I’m pretty sure she’s wrong. Check out these two Tweet sequences from US political uber-blogger Josh Marshall, the first of which starts with the Mendelson assertion. Outtake: But the reality is that news consumers don't want video. It is sometimes successfully forced on them.

The second sequence, just as interesting, starts with A lot of reactions to my comment on video for news/politics sites. Some oddly sensitive from certain VC-backed outlets.

I suspect most Net-head news-junkies will agree fervently.

It doesn’t always suck · There are exceptions, chiefly live cameras pointed at live news. To this day I remember, in June 1989, sitting for hours like a garden vegetable, watching the live feed from Tiananmen Square. Same story with Gaza wars and legislative sit-ins and Olympic torch-lighting. And of course live sports; baseball can be agonizingly slow, but that’s the price of love.

What can’t you speed up? · To start with, some video. The British Film Institute helpfully lists sixteen great cinematic long cuts. I found that page by searching by “long take Tarkovsky” which will tip you off that I was profoundly moved by the six-minute one-shot (but sadly, not one take) finale of The Sacrifice.

Here’s another example: Recently Sigur Rós offered Route One (hm, that link currently doesn’t work), 24 hours of live-streamed video of a drive round Iceland, backed by their space-fluff ear-candy. The video was kind of low-rez and I’m not even a huge fan of their music, but I spent 90 minutes on Route One with them and don’t regret a second.

And so, music. Speeding up recorded music would be the lowest philistinism imaginable, but messing with a song’s speed is a long and honorable tradition. Cosider J.J. Cale’s original lilting lope through After Midnight, and compare Clapton’s live hell-for-leather dash through it on 1979’s Just One Night. I wouldn’t want the world to be without either.

The rest · For your convenience, here is a comprehensive list of things for which there’s a proper pace that really oughtn’t be sped up.

  1. Eating

  2. Drinking

  3. … or really any path to altered states of consciousness

  4. Walking in the woods

  5. Any activity for which beds are designed

  6. Dancing

  7. Considering alternatives

I’m sure you can think of more.


Comment feed for ongoing:Comments feed

From: Eric Hanchrow (Jun 26 2016, at 21:43)

I've been listening to podcasts, and watching YouTube videos, at double speed for a long time now. I will not watch videos on any other site simply because they don't offer double-speed.


From: John Cowan (Jun 27 2016, at 00:01)

The truly detestable case of video is the open-source software that is documented exclusively in video. I simply refuse to use such things, or even think about them. No tickee, no shirtee.


From: hawkse (Jun 27 2016, at 04:13)

It's really sad to see that most of your list of things that really shouldn't be sped up are things where modern society strives hard to do exactly that.

As for speeding music up, using Youtube for guitar practice can be both a blessing and infuriatingly annoying. A fantastic tool to have someone show you how to play that song you want to learn, irritatingly slow when they insist on showing and reading out every - single - note of the piece.

Written music notation just gets the information across so much faster and in the same way, the instructional video gets the actual practice across way faster than a written description of how to play does.


From: Meower68 (Jun 27 2016, at 07:34)

In "The New Digital Shoreline," which discusses many ways in which technology is changing education, a story is related where a professor gets to meet a bunch of "distance learning" students who had been watching the professor's video-recorded lectures. One of the students commented that the professor's voice seemed different. Multiple of the students agreed. Turns out the students had been watching the videos on a faster speed, giving the professor's voice a higher pitch. In this way, though, the students could get through 30 minutes of lecture in less than 20 minutes.

I agree that, for many lectures, video is overkill. Yes, you need to hear what the lecturer is saying. You need to see, clearly, whatever slides they're showing or notations they're putting up there. There's at least one website where the technical talks rarely ever show the speaker's face. Screen real estate is devoted to slides, code, whatever they're demonstrating, with a voice over. Those are useful.

One video clip which I do not recommend fast-forwarding is a sequence in the movie "Up" from Pixar. Specifically, the sequence where the main character and his beloved get married, fail to have a family, grow old and she dies. There's no dialog; just some unobtrusive music. It's probably the most poignant few minutes in animated film history. You might want to back up a couple times a rewatch parts of it. A lot happens in quick sequence. Not one wasted moment.

And that, I think, is the criteria by which we can determine if a piece of video is suitable for fast-forward. Wasted moments waste the viewer's time. And that's one commodity which none of us seem to have in abundance.


From: Eric Promislow (Jun 27 2016, at 09:14)

Once again, life imitates art, in this case Douglas Coupland's early-90s novel, Microserfs. His Microsoft programmers are so strapped for free time they record shows with their VHS and play them back with close-captioning on at 2x.


From: Germ (Jun 27 2016, at 21:27)

Thanks for the article link — I found it quite interesting.

I've consumed things sped-up (2x) for a few years now: initially audio, and now a lot of video.

I find it works very well for non-fiction, and for many/most TV shows, but not for good films. (good) Films usually rely heavily on their atmosphere, mood and pacing, which are warped (or made melodramatic/funny) by the unnatural speed. Most comedies though, I find – suprisingly – are usually fine to speed up, unless they're the subtler, more cinematic, kind (such as many black comedies).

My rule of thumb is to listen to all non-fiction sped up, and to (at least) start all fiction at normal speed, with the option of speed it up if it’s “plot focused” (I’m tempted to use the word “trashy”, in a loving, not derogatory, way).


From: Paul Morriss (Jun 28 2016, at 00:45)

Top marks to Salesforce who offer training videos which quite rapidly go through features, and also explanatory text underneath which says much the same thing. I think I pretty much skip all other training videos and prefer to skim instructions.


From: Tim (but not _the_ Tim) (Jul 04 2016, at 17:46)

I am getting tired of news sites, including that of our local newspaper, trying to force me to watch video to get information. I was always a fast reader, and then took some speed-reading training in the 1980s when manuals were primarily of the dead tree variety and I had tons to consult in my role as primary systems guy for a mainframe, so I can definitely process text more quickly than video.


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