Many of us spend a lot of time online consuming written content. In bed, on our commute, over coffee, during lunch, perhaps while we work, as we relax on the sofa in the evening, or before we fall asleep at night.
But I would ask, how much are we truly paying attention to the day-to-day content we read online? Did you finish the article you started on the train this morning? Or did you just read the headlines? Our reading ability is broken. So often we only skim or glance over the content we believe we are giving our attentions to, with part of our minds fixated on something else. In fact, data from Chartbeat has shown most users will only read 60% of article content they engage with online, so you likely won't finish this article either.
We’re not really reading, are we? So let’s change the game.
Time to start listening.
Frustrated by my own tendencies to skim-read interesting articles and online content recently, only to economise more time for aimless trawling through Facebook, I set a challenge for myself this past week.
Using my daily commute, I would only consume audio-based content online to and from work each day, and see how my focus, enjoyment and retention of the content would compare to the articles I too often scroll through when 'reading' online. Being new to podcasts/audible content consumption; I planned my listening for the week, aiming to mirror the same topics I would often read about during the daily commute.
A cocktail of marketing, storytelling, rugby, communications, technology, entertainment and trivia chatter for the eardrums? It sure sounded like the typical content I usually skim-read online, but here's the thing... I heard every word.
Not only did I hear every word but I was able to better reflect and critique the content as is was being discussed, at times almost wanting to interject the speaker to ask a question, as if it were a live debate. Having your daily content served between your ears versus glaring in front of your eyes became immediately more intimate, engaging and enjoyable. Jad Abumrad, the host of Radiolab, noted how radio and other audio-based content is more suitable to instigating empathy in the audience, harnessing the power of co-authorship with each listener to deliver the message, and keep them continuously tuned in.
The New York Times' Teddy Wayne also highlights how the 'NPR voice' (often mirrored in today's podcast content) has taken over our attentions from the days of traditional news & radio; projecting a sense of sincerity which written content can often miss. When you consider the questions in today's media around confidence, trust and the trends of #fakenews - could audio content be a better tool for re-building trust?
Easy on the eye
Whilst being a more engaging form of content, I realised there are also many other benefits to consuming audio-based content over its written-word counterparts. No longer crooking my neck over my phone on the train each morning; I could enjoy the morning sunrise or watch the birds along Dublin's Grand Canal, all the while consuming the content and knowledge I wanted to learn each day. With eyes no longer fixed on the screen also comes the added benefit of less distraction. No more notifications popping up to tell you to check someone's latest Tweet or recent WhatsApp messages, leaving you to listen peacefully where eyes would have otherwise been whisked away.
The future of listening?
As for me, I'll be continuing to explore and test out different types of content consumption to see what sticks. Next up - audiobooks - for a chance to mirror the content of long-form written content and books, which are typically less digestible in a single reading or listening session. That is, once I pick my first book on Audible...
Technologists often speak of the rise of wearables and the future of a world without screens, so are we further creating a world where audio content will become a dominant channel in media consumption? Time to put the phones in the pocket folks, and let's find out!
Headphones on. Screens off.
Eyes shut. Ears open.
What're you listening to?