Skim-watching

Here's an old-ish article about a man named Jeff Guo who watches everything on fast-forward so that he can keep up with all of his shows. A few of his reasons below.

It's more efficient.

So here we are, spending three hours a day on average, scrambling to keep up with the Kardashians, the Starks, the Underwoods, and the dozens of others on the roster of must-watch TV, which has exploded in the age of fragmented audiences. Nowadays, to stay on the same wavelength with your different groups of friends — the ones hating on “Meat Chad” and the ones cooing over Khaleesi — you have to watch in bulk.

It's more pleasurable.

"Modern Family" played at twice the speed is far funnier — the jokes come faster and they seem to hit harder. I get less frustrated at shows that want to waste my time with filler plots or gratuitous violence. The faster pace makes it easier to appreciate the flow of the plot and the structure of the scenes.

It lets you jump around.

I don't watch linearly anymore; I often scrub back and forth to savor complex scenes or to skim over slow ones.

It's the future.

The more I've learned about the history and the science of media consumption, the more I've come to believe this is the future of how we will appreciate television and movies. We will interrogate videos in new ways using our powers of time manipulation. Maybe not everyone will watch on fast-forward like I do, but we will all be watching on our own terms.

My first reaction, typically, is to think of this guy as spoiled, self-obsessed, arrogant, and impatient. Who else would take something that has been carefully created—every second pored over—and take it in as casually as chewing gum? But I can come up with a few problems with my reaction already, namely that television isn't always carefully created and that, as this guy says, we often do the same thing with books anyway.

I will say that the experience of watching movies and TV has changed so much in the last hundred years that it's hard to say if there's a right and a wrong way to do it. Maybe this guy is on to something, like pushing the people who make TV shows to avoid filler and hold themselves to a higher standard. (He mentions that intense scenes, especially bloody ones, lose most of their impact when sped up.) For a generation of viewers raised on Vines and Instagram, the TV gurus are going to have to come up with something to meet that shortening attention span. And that might be a good thing. It might push people into artistic corners they would have avoided before.

But, still, I have my complaints. For one thing, Andrei Tarkovsky would probably tear out his moustache if he ever caught someone watching one of his films on "picture-go-fast." In his view, the whole point of cinema is manipulating time. If the filmmakers have no control over the time of the film, the moviegoer might as well be watching a slideshow. It's worth noting that when Jeff Guo mentioned his habit to editors, they were universally disgusted by it.

His first two reasons, efficiency and pleasure, dovetail with some of my complaints about binge-watching and the way we watch TV. First, there is no such thing as a "must-watch" show. By its nature, TV is ephemeral, fleeting, evanescent as aphid poop on a sunny day. Nowadays, people are putting more careful thought into television, it's true, but TV just hasn't been around long enough for any show to gain the status of a classic. (Same goes for movies, though we're getting close.) So there is no reason to be nervous about missing something important. "Efficiency" is as poor an argument for skim-watching as it is for skim-reading.

Second, manipulating art or entertainment for maximum personal pleasure is the habit of a druggie. It's interesting that Guo sees himself as actively watching. He is, in a sense, since he is creating his "own private pleasures." But what he really wants out of this exercise is the ability to gorge himself with more, more, more of what he thinks is "better content." There's a word for that: gluttony. Gluttons aren't always interested in mere quantity. There are gluttons of quality, too, and they do just as much damage to the creation they say they love. Anything that is worth watching, reading, eating, or drinking is worth approaching on its own terms. If you are served filet mignon and you grind it up and put it on a bun with a dollop of mustard, you have missed the point. TV may not be great art (yet), but if it's any good at all, it deserves respectful attention.