Factors such as the fear of being left out of the «social conversation» or the very format of mobile phones contribute to the generalization of this practice
If you have three quarters of an hour free, you can take advantage of them to watch a series episode that lasts that. But, if you only have half an hour … well, you can also dedicate it to watching that 45-minute chapter in its entirety: it will be enough to use the 1.5x, fast playback, a resource that ‘traditional’ moviegoers see as an abomination but that has become the norm for millions of viewers around the world. Every time we find this option in more places: on YouTube it is already a classic, WhatsApp has introduced it this year for its audios (and it is appreciated by some interlocutors prone to detours) and streaming platforms are embracing it with determination. When it comes to justifying it, their spokesmen usually do a nice pirouette, and remind us that the possibility of slowing down playback helps people with comprehension difficulties or who speak another language to be able to follow the action, but we all know that in We are actually talking about stepping on the accelerator so that this crazy life does not leave us behind.
Those of us who are strangers to this practice usually ask what need is there, what sense is there in such a hurry. And that misunderstanding betrays us as outdated beings. «There is a key anthropological element to understand this phenomenon: the FOMO or, in Spanish, the fear of missing something, of being left out of the collective discourse. We have so much content at our disposal that the problem is not the supply, but the personal capacity to consume it. That is, the time. That leads to ‘speedwatching’ ”, analyzes Pablo F. Iglesias, digital presence consultant at PabloYglesias.com. A few years ago we talked a lot about ‘binge watching’, the habit of swallowing entire seasons in one go, but now the acceleration factor is added: «Each episode of the series will take us around 45 minutes … I put 1.5x, I can see it in about 30. Taking into account that, on average, the series have around eight chapters, we are talking about a saving of two hours. If we have an hour a day to enjoy series, that means that we will finish two days before, “says Iglesias.
Like silent movies
So much impatience surely has a technological root. “I would say that it is inherited from the smartphone, but, in addition to the device itself, from the moments of consumption. The smartphone accompanies us on public transport, in idle times, and we have gone from ‘I’m going to see a movie’ to ‘I have a while, to see what I see’ “, reflects the creative and copywriter Óscar Bilbao, who has just published the book ‘The secrets of online video, a transmedia guide for streamers, bloggers and brands’ (ESIC). “The video or the DVD already anticipated the phenomenon – he adds -, allowing us to handle the times of history minimally to our liking, moving forward or backward. Linear TV did not allow it, of course, but we have been years in which, for example, Twitter has been incorporated into the viewing of, above all, reality-type programs. The appearance of streaming platforms gives the viewer total control, if not of the story, there are already cases, at least of the times and the rhythm. It can be a mixture of empowerment, moments of viewing and acceleration of consumption due to the overdose of information, which makes us anxious not to miss anything ».
Those who have become used to seeing things at 1.5x or even 2x (that is, twice the normal speed) assure that there is no going back, that afterwards the rhythm conceived by the director seems maddeningly slow, that even the reality seems slow. The acceleration of the narrative pulse seems inevitable. Óscar Bilbao agrees: «The current way of consuming audiovisuals takes us back to the days of the first cinema, that of the Lumière, Méliès, Buster Keaton, Harold Lloyd, the first Chaplin … The rhythms were insane, it was shot at 16 images per second and it was reproduced at 24, but not only that: many things happened and very quickly, with short or very short shots, and they were silent, pulling labels or subtitles, as now, that many times we have ‘muted’ the sound ‘. Smartphones get on very badly with large John Ford-style panoramas, which were made so that movie theaters could compete with televisions that were beginning to become popular in homes. And, like it or not, the format is more awkward and less immersive. What does that lead us to? To speed up the rhythms to maintain interest. ‘The paper house’ is a clear example. I think that if a director, an editor, has decided that a shot lasts a certain time, it will be for something. The problem is that the contents are generally created in multiplatform format, and it is not the same to see ‘Avengers’ in a cinema than in a Samsung ».
Iglesias adds another acceleration that seems definitive: “A phenomenon like the one experienced with ‘Game of Thrones’, which premiered at the rate of one episode every week, seems unrepeatable in a market where Netflix is, at least for now, the part of the cod and has bet almost exclusively to deliver entire seasons to favor the so-called ‘binge eating’. As absurd as it may seem, part of the experience of consuming audiovisual content today is based on immediacy, on being part of that social conversation. There is a vicious circle of more and more productions, more and more catalogs and the need for some of this content to go viral, as has happened with ‘The Squid Game’ ”.
As the American media theorist Douglas Rushkoff has written, “Any art that asks its audience to slow down or, worse still, pause and reflect is hurting a market that relies on automatic and fast-paced behaviors.” Do our experts ever step on that player accelerator? “No, although I recognize that I do read diagonally when a certain part of a book does not finish hooking me, which is practically the same,” says Bilbao, who is located “halfway between the baby boomers and Generation X” . Iglesias, for his part, establishes a distinction: “Whoever is free from sin, let him throw the first stone… I do it, although not in series and movies, I am still old-school there. But, for example, it is something that I do almost daily with podcasts and also with some documentaries, what we could call information consumption: depending on the speed at which the participants speak, I do tend to put a 1.25x.1 , 5x or even a little more. I am going, let’s go, but with well-defined limits… for now ».
“As a game it is funny, as a rule it is aberrant”
Film critic Josu Eguren perfectly remembers his ‘experiment’ with fast speed: «A few years ago, before this practice became popular, I saw the movie ‘The Secret Life of Bees’ at 1.5x, fiddling with the moviola of the digital player. As a game it has its grace, but as a rule it is aberrant, even more so when it is the streaming platforms that have given it a letter of nature ». Eguren attributes the popularity of this custom to the sum of several factors: «Lack of time, because we have few hours of leisure; urgency to stay up to date and participate in viral conversations and attention deficit. For Netflix, HBO, Hulu or Amazon, series and movies are simply content with which to fatten their catalogs, and as such they are perceived by their subscribers, so it is not strange to me that they are abused in this way.