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.
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.