Podfasters: people who listen to podcasts at speeds up to 300% of normal

I remember the first time a blind friend let me listen in on her screen-reader's text-to-speech narration, a high-speed chipmunk squeal that she had trained herself to decode; I was hugely impressed.

More than a decade later, I've found myself sometimes speeding up my favorite podcasts to 1.2 or 1.5 speed, especially when I have a big backlog to listen to, or when I discover a new podcast and want to get through its previous editions.

I'm not the only one, apparently — the "podfaster" phenomenon is composed of people who've learned to listen to podcasts at high speeds (even double- or triple-speed). It has some potential benefits besides speed — apparently higher tones are less likely to be masked by low-pitched street noises, HVAC or low-flying planes.

Neuroscientist Uri Hassan, whose Hassan Lab at Princeton studies brain responses to real-life events, has studied how the brain processes sped-up speech. He pointed out that even at normal speed, most people don't catch every single word that's being said. "If you make it one-third faster, it's almost perfect — they don't lose a lot," he said. He also noted that the brain is able to easily adapt to different speaking speeds. "Your brain responses become slower when I speak slowly, and brain responses become faster when I speak faster." But, he cautioned, comprehension starts to break down around 2x, and at 3x "it really breaks down."

There's one exception to this, though: blind people. "Because they are so used to only listening, they can speed it up faster than sighted people," Hassan said. "They're really trained."

Meet the People Who Listen to Podcasts at Super-Fast Speeds
[Doree Shafrir/Buzzfeed]

(via Marginal Revolution)

(Image: Yagraph, CC-BY-SA)