Are Audiobooks Cheating

I was out with a group of friends for dinner and the topic came up regarding a very popular book Becoming by Michelle Obama. The question then came up: has anyone read it? Out of the six people sitting around the table two hands went up plus the person asking the question, which made three. I had listened to the book and with a delayed reaction I raised my hand. This delay had clearly placed a hint of doubt into the minds of my friends and all of them began to grill me on my thoughts about very specific parts of the book. They had no idea that I had in fact listened to the book and had not read it, in the traditional sense of reading, but they were clearly suspicious.

One of my concerns about listening to audiobooks, specifically non-fiction books, is around reading comprehension or the amount of information I take away and retain from my consumption of a particular book. The risk when listening to any audiobook is the wandering mind and distractions that you just don’t get when you traditionally read a book. Traditional reading requires your eyes and mind, while listening requires your ears and mind leaving the very dominate sense of vision to distract your mind more than your ears would.

A well-know strategy to overcome this is by increasing the listening speed of your audiobook player. With modern technology increasing the speed no longer sounds like chipmunks. The technology works by removing the silence between the words which has no impact on the pitch of the narrator’s voice. The removal of the silence between words means twice as many words are spoken at two times speed than one time speed. The magic of this is, in order to keep up with the book speed you are required to commit more of your cognitive energy to the narrator’s voice reducing or even eliminating the wondering mind.

As my three friends continued to test me on my knowledge of this book, I began to realize I knew more about the book than they did. Their questions and comments regarding the earlier chapters were very vague and became more specific on the later chapters. I realized that this was probably due to the fact that a month or so had elapsed from them starting the book to finishing it. As I reflected back I realized I had listened to the book over the course of a week and a half and all the information was fresh in my mind.

If the objective is to consume information that an author has created, and you can do this effectively through your ears but still choose to read it in the traditional sense with your eyes only to avoid judgement from others, then I do believe you have cheated, you have cheated yourself.

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