At some point in the not very distant past someone on YouTube figured out that modern video editing software made it very easy to cut out every pause and breath in his monologue so that the whole thing came out as a continuous stream of words without a single break from the beginning to the end of the video just like a paragraph with no punctuation and then somehow decided that hey this was really a nifty effect and he should do it all the time and inexplicably other people began to copy that style until now it has become more or less the norm that every video channel on YouTube is stuffed with breathless presentations that are nothing but a solid drone from beginning to end.

Now, here is where it would have been useful a few years ago, when that discovery was first made by some unheralded cultural pioneer, if YouTube had made it easy to use small capitals in the comments. Small capitals convey an impression of authority and finality. The world would have been a better place if, under that first video, someone had left a comment like this: “Hey, I notice you used your editing software to cut out all the pauses. Never do that again.

In his 239 years on this earth, Dr. Boli has had the privilege of meeting a number of people in unusual professions. He vividly remembers meeting, in about 1980 or so, a man who had what struck Dr. Boli at the time as one of the most unusual professions he had ever run across. This man worked for a firm that accelerated recordings of human speech. Until very recently, he explained, increasing the speed of a recording necessarily increased the pitch as well, and grown men turned into screeching pixies. But now, in the wonderful world of 1980, technology had finally reached the point where it was possible to increase the speed of a recorded voice and keep the pitch the same.

Dr. Boli does not recall what the purpose of this accelerated speech was. He imagines it as sponsored by a cabal of very impatient executives who wanted to absorb as much information as possible about the West German Betamax market before they had to tee off at 2:30. But whatever the ultimate purpose of it, exhaustive research went into this project. Plenty of data had been accumulated about exactly how fast human speech can hit the human ear and still be processed by the human brain.

But what about the pauses? Surely much time is wasted in the pauses. Human speakers are hampered by the necessity of breathing, but machines do not share that requirement. All that inhalation is just dead time in the recording. Could we not add considerably to the speed of the presentation by eliminating the breaths and pauses?

Here, our expert explained, is where the research came up with an answer that was perhaps counterintuitive at first. No matter how much the speech itself was accelerated, a certain amount of dead time had to be accepted. The reason was psychological. When we are listening intently to a speaker, we naturally begin to breathe in synchronization with the speech we are hearing. When the company experimented with eliminating breaths and pauses, the test listeners found themselves out of breath and irritated. It was not good for them to hear a steady unbroken stream of words.

Has this research been invalidated? Dr. Boli himself, an experimental group of one, finds YouTube videos in which pauses and breaths have been cut out so irritating that he simply refuses to watch them at all. But perhaps he is out of touch with the times. Perhaps most people of a younger generation—the generation born after the War of 1812—much prefer to have an unbroken stream of words hurled at their ears without any inhalations to break up the flow of aural stimulation.

So he throws the question out to his readers. Which of you prefer to have all pauses edited out of a monologue? What are your reasons? And if no one can be found who actually does prefer this style of editing, why has it become the norm on YouTube but not on commercial television? Your theories, tangential observations, and cranky complaints are welcome in the comments. Please punctuate properly.


  1. von Hindenburg says:

    Can the doctor provide an example? Of the few dozen YT channels that I subscribe to, I can’t think of any that utilize this technique. Of course, presenters of videos on shipping and logistics news and railroad history are probably less prone to it than others.

    I have friends who routinely listen to audiobooks at 1.5-2x speed. I can somewhat understand this for nonfiction, if you are trying to cram in as much information as possible, but for works of fiction purchased for entertainment? Part of my criteria for choosing a book is how many hours of dishes, laundry, and lawn mowing it will entertain me through.

  2. Ye Olde Statistician says:

    Many years ago, I received a letter (which ought to quantify that “many,” supra) in which the writer complained that I had spent too much time in my novel on ‘characterization.’ All he wanted was ‘content.’ He did not explain what he meant by this, but the plaint sounded vaguely computeralistic. Apparently, he wanted a bald chronology of events and could not be bothered wasting his time on the characters, their motives, and their purposes.

    I offer the above as an ur-instance of the same urge to shorten and get-to-the-pointiness as your post.

    • Occasional Correspondent says:

      I recall a comment by Charles Brown (founder of Locus) that it was a discovery to him that stories could be read for something other than plot — this is a sensibility that is in play out there.

  3. Fred says:

    When I’m watching youtube videos I sometimes pause it to do something else, like having a snack, going to the bathroom, having dinner, watching something more interesting or whatever. But I have a tendency to pause it in between sentences or when the presenter gets to a lull in the talking. I guess the fewer and shorter pauses a video has the harder it is to stop or remember what else you were going to be doing, which might be useful if the youtube algorithm recommends videos based on minutes watched. Now if you were going for number of views I would think you would want as many pauses as possible so people would keep leaving off and coming back to it days later.

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