[ExI] reading vs hearing

Lee Corbin lcorbin at rawbw.com
Thu May 21 06:25:40 UTC 2009

spike wrote:

> This brings up an important question I have been pondering.  During the last
> couple years, I intentionally avoided the noise copy of everything in the
> news.  Now I take all my news by reading only.  In some cases I read hard
> copy (newspapers and magazines), the great majority of the time internet
> soft copy, but no TV, no radio, no podcast, no noise copy of any kind.  I
> did this with the pre-election debates: read the transcripts the next day.
> My reasoning is that I am a fast reader, and have excellent reading
> comprehension and retention.  Sound channel, not so much.  My attention
> wanders when using that slow medium.  With reading, I control the speed.
> With noise, the speaker does.

I listen to a fair number of books on tape
or DVD and often have to hit rewind because
something went by too fast. Yes, sometimes
my mind wandered, as you say, but those
are the uninteresting cases.

What is happening in the cases of interest
is that what is said sparks a train of
thought which, had I been reading instead,
would have been handled easily---noticing
where I was in the page, I would just
pause reading.

Often those "trains of thoughts", tangencies,
are the most productive thing I get out of
either reading or listening to or talking
to people. (We understand ourselves best:
I've had a huge number of my best insights
while telling somebody about something!)

How can people listening at a thousand or
two words a minute have time to reflect
on it? Clearly we need to distinguish more
carefully just what we are trying to do
when we listen, watch, or read. Perhaps
it's a function of the *kind* of information
we're after.

Sometimes when fixing dinner, say, and I'm
listening to a history book, I've come
away with the impression that certain things
made a deeper impression on me than if I
had been reading. Maybe the tone of voice
of the speaker is the cause, if, for example,
he was describing some appalling incident from
long ago.

Overall, naturally, I think that everyone will
agree that reading has almost all the advantages,
which accentuates the tragedy of blindness.

> Experiment: take a big diverse group, divide it equally, give all the same
> info, but one subgroup gets only soft or hard copy, the other gets only
> noise copy.  Do they come away with the same message?  If different, how?
> Why?  

Wouldn't it be great to run your own university
lavishly, and be able to assign the psychology
department to pursuing various of your brainstorms?

Okay, a conjecture: those merely listening
will devote more emotional processing time
to what is heard (or images seen, for that
matter), than those reading. Of course,
that's pretty easy to say: I refer people
to one of P.J. Manney's posts a year or two
back in which she described the great chapter
entitled "Typographic America" in the book
"Amusing Ourselves to Death" by Neil Postman.

The thesis is that by watching at listening,
educated Americans now are in effect a lot
dumber and less rational than were educated
Americans a century ago when print was king,
although Postman reserves most of his scorn
for images (TV) as opposed to audio (radio).


> Now, let the original group divide itself as it wishes, to get either text
> or sound, not both.  Now do the two groups get the same message?  Your
> answers may explain a lot.
> spike

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