Approaching the Speed Limit

Screen shot of audiobook The Witches by Stacy Schiff showing the play speed of 1.5xIn the 90s if my friend and I wanted to avoid eavesdroppers, we spoke in our secret language. We learned it from a book. It didn’t take long for us to fire off sentences on the bus or playground, smirking conspiratorially as other kids stared with heads tilted and eyebrows up. I’m not going to write out a line because I’m certain you’ll figure out the trick and then I’ll be bummed the secret language isn’t quite so secret anymore. Let’s leave it at this: Amy of The Big Bang Theory speaks it–The Skank Reflex Analysis, S5: E1–and, well…nerds unite.

My penchant for fast speech remains. Anytime I’m relaxing with an audiobook, as I acclimate to the narrator’s speech rhythm I’ll bump it up to 1.5x or even a 2x playback level. My mind keeps pace, but it’s definitely a learned habit. I can’t take any performer and immediately speed her up and expect 100% comprehension. I must fall into the speech cadence before activating the linguistic sprint.

Where did this ability come from? It would be easy to say it’s because of my visual impairment. With poor sight, clearly, I now use a superpower ability to hear twice as fast. No, not really. Although with less brain power translating visual input, I certainly focus more on audio input. And, it’s a scientific fact humans process sound faster than sight. According to auditory neuroscientist Seth Horowitz in a Radiolab interview, “it takes our brain at least one-quarter of a second to process visual recognition…You can recognize a sound in 0.05 seconds”

We are wired for sound input, yet have you noticed our world leans toward visual input? Interesting. Anyway. It’s like I trained my brain from a young age. Family gatherings tend to be times where lots of food and drinks are consumed and people are constantly talking over one another and it’s normal. Riding around in the car searching for a good song as teens, my sister and I wielded a sharp reflex in identifying songs by a few notes. Lunch in the cafeteria in high school was a time of simultaneous conversations. In college, all of us coxswains on the rowing team seemed to be speedy talkers. Issuing commands and keeping a boat on course demands prompt action, but I’m including time off the water, boats stored and books out.

On TV, as they ran gurneys and sick patients around hallways, the doctors on E.R. rattled off medical instructions and directives. One of the reasons I love shows like Gilmore Girls and The West Wing are for their signature “walk and talks” in every episode. Characters discuss something as they walk around the town, a campus, or the cramped quarters of the White House and the camera keeps rolling for a long shot as the conversation flows. It’s exciting.

But not everyone likes the fast talk. Stockton says my audiobooks sound like a machine on warp speed and I’ve heard many guys admit they can’t handle the quips on Gilmore Girls. Their loss, I say. I’m still hooked. (And I’m looking forward to four new episodes of GG’s, thank you, Netflix 2016.) With no end in sight to books I want to listen to and shows I watch and relationships I cherish, fast talking–whether in plain English or otherwise–lingers on in my life.


How about you? Are you a code-talker? Do you keep up with snappy dialogue? Have you caught yourself talking in abbreviations? What shows do you watch that feature walk and talks? Have you inhaled in the last twenty seconds? Tell me about it.

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10 Comments Add yours

  1. Interesting, I did not know that we process sound quicker than sight. It’s only been over the past year that I’ve found myself speeding up audio although when I’m listening to some of my favorite Audible novels I like to relax and enjoy the performance. When I first started increasing the speed I thought I my superpowers just kicked in as a delayed response because other friends of mine listen to audio at warp speed and I used to be like “how in the world can you understand that” and now here I am. I think it’s just a lack of patience on my part though because while I don’t think I talk fast I walk like a lunatic. You’ve seen just about everything when you see a woman using a white cane speed walking.

    1. Casee says:

      The mental image of a white cane user speed walking made me laugh out loud. A speed walking white cane user is definitely someone with a super power. 🙂 Especially on some of our more crowded sidewalks in places like New York or Chicago.

      1. I think NY or Chicago might be my undoing. Here in Pittsburgh I practically mow people down haha.

      2. We must go speed walking together. I walk with purpose, too! But, more importantly, do you still make Pittsburgh lefts against oncoming foot traffic? Grin.

      3. Hahaha. My son HATES Pittsburgh lefts.

  2. Casee says:

    I listen to the first 30 minutes of an Audio book at regular speed and once I am sure I have the cadence it is on to 2x. I have noticed some narrators speak so slowly I have no problem listening to them at 3x the speed. I find that with most Audible books if I don’t speed them up my mind drifts. For some narrators I listen at regular speed just because I like the sound of their voice such as Bahni Turpin. I am currently listening to Because We Are: A Novel of Haiti by Ted Oswald.

    1. Yes, if the mind drifts it’s time to speed up. You’re right though, a narrator with a great voice may be listened to at typical speed with less mind wanderings.

  3. I find this so fascinating. The research you reference makes sense to me. After I suffered a closed head (brain) injury that mucked up my visual processing my performance on standardized IQ tests showed a remarkable disparity between my visual and auditory processing suggesting I was below average when using my eyes more than 15 minutes (when the headaches set in) and well above average when using my ears. Prior to the accident however I would have said I was a much more visually oriented learner. Since then I have had to rely on my ears much more but fatigue sets in as does distraction. I have discovered that I am in Easley distracted auditory learner!

    1. That is so interesting, thanks for sharing your experience!

  4. One thing I’ve noticed with reduced vision is how difficult I find it to follow fast conversations without an element of lip reading. I have good hearing so i think this has more to do with interaction. On audio books I couldn’t bear to speed up my favourite narrators. However, for books and podcasts that drag on I may give it a try. Very interesting post, Susan.

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