Chuck Carroll

Thoughts On Audiobooks

Published: 2023-04-07
Last Updated: 2023-06-25

Lately I've been hooked on the audiobook versions of James S. A. Corey's The Expanse series, but I have mixed feelings about audiobooks in general. It seems that most people, especially hustle culture bros, use audiobooks as a means to superficially absorb information while they're doing something else, like driving a car, exercising, or even working. Despite what people think, humans are terrible at multi-tasking and we can only pay attention to one thing at a time. It's very difficult to retain information while simultaneously performing a task that requires you to be alert and focused like navigating through traffic, or running on a treadmill at a gym with TV screens in every direction and dozens of other people around.

For me, audiobooks are not helpful for absorbing nonfiction information where I'm trying to learn something, but I've found that they're best for listening to fiction as opposed to non-fiction (and the narrator can make or break the experience). They can be useful while I'm doing low level tasks that require minimal mental space and attention like washing dishes or cooking something I've cooked plenty of times, where my attention is primarily on the audiobook and minimally on my task instead of the other way around. The best time to listen to audiobooks is at night while I'm in bed and the lights off - no auditory or visual distractions.

Reading a physical book is far superior in regards to attention and information absorbtion. Text is actively processed by the reader instead of passively listened to. You can simply stop reading and think about an idea. By it's very nature it requires your attention. You're also not going to be reading a book while your doing something of moderate mental intensity and where you need to be alert like driving a car. I do think it's possible to sit on a stationary bike and read since the book is encompassing your view and you're less likely to have something visually pulling at your attention.

I do have several nonfiction audiobooks that I've listened to or intend to listen to where I've already read the physical book. I think this is the best method that works for me for consuming nonfiction audiobooks, almost akin to rereading a book.

Ultimately, you're not as likely to get the same level of depth and understanding listening to an audiobook than you would reading a book. Audiobooks are great and have a place in my life, but reading actual text is superior.

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