Point: Spoken Audio Is Better Than Music and Video
I started listening to sports talk radio when I was about thirteen. It probably was not the best use of my time as a young lad, but I found a station that covered my favorite Chicago teams and had some daytime talk shows with hosts who made feel like I knew stuff about sports and whose immaturity somehow made me feel more like an adult.
When I got a car and a job as a lifeguard, I would listen in my ‘88 Honda or during my long shifts watching old people swim laps to Cubs games on WGN 720AM, the midday show on WSCR 670AM, and NPR news on WNIJ 89.5FM. The reason I did this is because I knew, even at a young age, that spoken audio is better than music and video.
Like you, I can watch pretty much any video ever any time I like regardless of where I am. But to do this would be an abuse of the era we live in. Take public transportation for example. There are many different forms of the asshole commuter, but one is certainly the rider watching video on a phone with headphones. When you’re watching a video, you’re not aware of the things around you, not least of which is that people are seeing you and making What an asshole! expressions. Watcher commuters often make commotion when they almost miss their stops due to watching TV on the damn subway. Listener commuters don’t miss their stops and are loved by everyone on the subway or bus.
More broadly, even when they’re not on public transportation, watchers invariably subject those around them to their viewing experience. Smartphones make life more simple, but they should not make public life feel like the comforts of one’s homelife. Listening to audio on your smartphone in public carries none of the assholery of watching video in public. The listener is tuned out of the world somewhat with her audio for one, but still tuned in enough to see surroundings and not be a video-loving sociopath.
Even at home, audio is better than video. It becomes an accompaniment to your life as opposed to a separation from your life. Freedom from having to stare at a screen allows you to accomplish tasks like washing dishes or taking out the recycling or doing a puzzle. This is not to say that video is wholly bad. I like separating from my life at times, watching movies, shows, and sports. But audio’s versatility over video and its comparative inherent reduction in the listener’s laziness is indisputable. People who prefer video don’t wash their dishes, never recycle, and can’t complete puzzles. The question is clear: Do you want to listen to spoken audio or do you want to be a dirty, stupid person who’s destroying the environment?
But even clean, intelligent people who care about the planet can have a difficult time seeing that music is inferior to spoken audio. They say things like, That chorus makes me so emotional or Adele is my spirit animal or I’ve been listening to this song on repeat this whole week. None of these are untrue statements. Instead, they’re just not as good as what one gets from quality spoken audio. Music can be beautiful and a representation of the human condition or of the world, but it rarely independently teaches us anything. That chorus as part of an art form is beautiful because it plays on your priors; it’s cool you have a spirit animal, but you should also probably get a job and some hobbies; it sounds like a week you’ll look back on and feel good about yourself.
What’s more, spoken audio mediums like news/talk radio and podcasts can make excellent use of music. Sections of songs can give texture in the background or between segments of real-life content, and actual people can give their opinions about musical personas or characters in a song. The best spoken audio uses instrumentals or well-placed lyrics to make what was spoken more meaningful and memorable. But you don’t hum or sing along because you know what the notes or words are; you wait to hear what the speaker says to make those notes and words meaningful precisely because you don’t know what will be said.
None of this is to say that all spoken audio is good spoken audio. Most of it sucks. That first favorite of mine—sports talk radio—is generally a garbage industry where egotistical and chauvinistic men speak in crude and cruel ways about their topics and audience. And now everyone has a podcast. One of my favorite writers, Jeff Passan, just started a baseball podcast. This should be something I enjoy given my affinity for podcasts, baseball, and Jeff Passan. It’s not good, though, likely because good spoken audio is difficult. And while it’s hard to produce, the result of actually good spoken audio is that people realize that video is for unaware assholes and music is for uninformed dreamers. Don’t be one of those. Listen to spoken audio.