The Meaning of Silence

Marco’s new podcast app Overcast can remove the silences. Does our relentless demand to make everything more efficient sometimes remove more than is desired?

Marco Arment, formerly of Tumblr, Instapaper,  and The Magazine, has released his podcast app Overcast. It’s generally very nice, and already seems to annoy me less than Apple’s own app.

As well as the standard playback speed settings, Overcast offers the option to shorten silences. This speeds up your podcast playing without distorting the audio. It’s an optional setting, and one that correctly you can set per-podcast.

Now… I can.. appreciate… how this might.. erm… help if you’re listening to a podcast by someone who has awful delivery. Most of mine are from radio shows from members of Big Media: there isn’t a lot of silence to be culled.

Some of the tweets have been very, for want of a better edited phrase, Techno-utopian-efficiency-fetishizing. Comments along the lines of “Already saved 30 minutes using SmartSpeed” and “Can you add up and display all the time I’ve saved?”

My issue is that well-meaning pauses are just as much part of good oratory as the words.

Take them away and things can go hilariously wrong:

This isn’t a criticism of the app, or the author. The feature has its place. I’d prefer to think about it being used to fix deficient audio, rather than eke every possible minute possible out of listening.1

I just tire of the endless demand for evermore efficiency in everything.

Yes I want my banking to be easier.  Of course I’d rather type data into systems directly rather than sitting on the phone, as someone enters it for me…

But when the need for faster/cheaper/better detracts from the experience, that’s when it starts annoying me. When it’s the kind of mindset that thinks that chewing food is a chore.

Not everything needs to be efficient, not everything needs to be a measured.2

  1. I’d prefer people to produce better audio in the first place, but it turns out producing decent audio takes time…who knew?
  2. And on that note my FuelBand is nagging me to get moving