What is ‘speedwatching’ and what are its effects?


Surely we have all heard an audio message sent by a messaging service like WhatsApp at a higher speed than normal. Maybe we were in a hurry, the message was long or the person sending it spoke slowly. It is also possible that we have advanced a fragment of a movie or series at a higher speed to be able to reach the end sooner.

This trend is called speedwatching and, although it is observed mainly in young people and adolescents, the previous examples show how everyone can be tempted to fall into it. Videos, music, podcasts… everything can be listened to or viewed at a faster speed to be consumed and finished sooner.

It is not something so recent: although WhatsApp , Telegram , TikTok and other platforms and social networks have the function of accelerating the playback speed, since 2019 browsers such as Chrome incorporated extensions that allowed viewing to be accelerated automatically on various platforms.

But what happens when we get used to consuming content played at speeds faster than those at which they were recorded or broadcast?

What does speedwatching respond to ?

In our society, being busy is valued positively. Hurrying has become, in many cases, a lifestyle. Lack of time is a commonplace in a world where everything quickly becomes outdated and where the management of waiting times is increasingly complex. Being able to view or listen to content at a higher speed is still an adaptive response to this lack of time.

Some North American studies delve into this relationship between the viewer and the content, placing the viewer as the master of time, who enjoys the pleasure of being able to compress the products according to their needs and desires.

An extremely visual world, with little use of words and in which hours are never enough to be able to carry out everything that remains pending, requires tools to cope with it.

There is, on the other hand, the need to be permanently up to date with the latest headlines, the latest episodes of series, the latest videos uploaded to social networks, podcasts or any other digital content.

This anxiety caused by the fear of missing out on experiences and therefore being socially excluded is called FOMO ( Fear Of Missing Out ). FOMO is a type of social anxiety that generates insecurity, fear or even low self-esteem, and involves having to be constantly connected to the network. This permanent connection is linked to the need to consume (see and listen to) the maximum possible content in the shortest possible time.

What negative effects can it have?

Processes such as attention and concentration, involved in memory and learning, as well as the management of waiting times, may be affected if this activity ends up being habitual.

Attention is an executive function that is based on a physiological response to a stimulus that attracts us . But the time that a person can maintain attention (sustained attention) is a voluntary ability that increases over the years, being much shorter in children than in adults.

Now, when in our daily lives we need to see or listen to a lot of content in a short time, we reduce our attentional capacity. The constant search for new stimuli activates the neurotransmitter called dopamine, creating reward circuits and generating a vicious cycle .

We can say that the brain accustomed to speedwatching will get bored if it does not receive stimuli at accelerated speed, becoming passive. Stop being attentive, concentrating and simply receive information.

More speed, less understanding

Attention and memory (especially working memory ) are key executive functions in learning processes. Studies demonstrate the relationship between sustained attention and learning processes, which implies that not being able to sustain attention can have consequences on the depth with which learning is carried out. In order to learn, a voluntary effort is required that can be compromised by not having time to internalize and work with the content consumed at high speed.

Some recent studies have already shown that playing a lecture at a higher speed affects the good understanding of its content. In fact, the Journal of Applied Cognitive Psychology is against the acceleration of videos with the aim of saving time, as it explains that complex aspects of audiovisual products are lost.

Less patience and ability to wait

Finally, taking into account the vicious circle generated by dopamine, another important effect is the poor management of waiting: the constant stimulation caused by speedwatching and the fast-paced world generates permanent gratification in the brain. By always having a stimulus available, patience is reduced. And we lose the habit of having to wait to obtain a goal.

Although this management of waiting times is also a skill that is learned with age, maturation and experience, the reality is that we are becoming more and more impatient .

Spot cognitive training

But not everything in speedwatching is negative. Although increasing the speed of audio and video playback is a technique supposedly intended to save time, it is also recently being shown to require practice, training, and focused attention.

Therefore, if we do not make it habitual, but rather use it as a specific tool for a specific purpose or for a particular reason, speedwatching is not harmful in itself, quite the opposite.

Realizing that we may be misusing this technique and turning it into a trend should also help us create a space to stop and think. Analyze if we are really buying time or we have simply entered a circle of endless consumption in a world that moves too fast.

Author Bio: Sylvie Perez Lima, Psychopedagogue. COPC 29739 is a Professor and tutor of Psychology and Education Studies at UOC – Universitat Oberta de Catalunya