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Audiobooks: Is listening the same as reading? Reddit discussion

An internet user has sparked furious backlash with a harsh assessment of one of the most common past-times.

Is listening to an audiobook the same as reading?

Not according to one internet troll, who has sparked outrage among audiophiles with a brutal assessment likening their popular past-time to a “toddler” being read a book by their mother.

“Listening to an audiobook is not reading,” the user wrote in a post on Reddit’s “Unpopular Opinion” forum.

“Far too often people that brag how they ‘read’ 200 to 300 books a year actually just listened to audiobooks for the most part. They then get offended when confronted with the fact that listening to an audiobook is not reading. It’s listening to someone reading a book for you – is not reading it yourself. Reading requires an active involvement on your part – listening is something passive that can be done while doing other things.

They added, “It’s like arguing that a toddler that gets read a book by his mother did indeed read it – which is absurd.”

The controversial opinion has attracted more than 6000 comments, with many people defending their hobby.

“I have dyslexia and reading can be a damn chore for me,” one user wrote. “I agree it’s not the same as reading a paper book but the fact that I can listen and obtain the information (especially while driving, running and doing chores) has been amazing. I’ve listened to books there’s no way I would have been able to read through.”

Another said, “Your whole premise seems to be that the number of books someone has read is primarily a demonstration of their ability to read. A person who is comfortable with their reading ability might instead think that gaining the content/knowledge contained in a book is more important.”

Many argued the medium was irrelevant, as long as the information was transmitted. “I agree with you that ‘read’ is a word with a specific meaning and listening is not reading,” one said. “But, if I’m talking with a friend and they say, ‘Have you read Game Of Thrones?’ I’d say ‘Yes.’ I listened to it on audiobook. The objective of the question is not determined the medium of me getting the content.”

Others insisted that listening did require active involvement. “I wouldn’t call it passive,” one said. “If you’re not paying attention to it, it is literally nothing but background noise and absolutely none of it is gonna stick in your memory. I mean I’ll agree it’s not ‘reading’ but to act like there’s no active involvement is a pretty bad take.”

What does the science say?

The debate over listening versus reading has been raging for several years now, and multiple studies have been conducted in an attempt to answer the question.

Overall, the general consensus is that both have their place – but there are differences.

In 2019, researchers from the University of California, Berkeley who tested subjects using functional MRI scans concluded that listening and reading evoked nearly identical brain activity.

Daniel Willingham, a psychologist at the University of Virginia and leading researcher of reading comprehension, also weighed into the debate in a 2018 opinion piece for The New York Times.

“Each is best suited for different purposes, and neither is superior,” he wrote.

“Writing is less than 6000 years old, insufficient time for the evolution of specialized mental processes devoted to reading. We use the mental mechanism that evolved to understand oral language to support the comprehension of written language.”

But he argued print was generally better for more “difficult texts” which may need to be re-read or slowly digested. Audio, on the other hand, was better for communicating prosody – the pitch, tempo and stress of spoken words.

“Print may be best for lingering over words or ideas, but audiobooks add literacy to moments where there would otherwise be none,” he wrote.

“Our richest experiences will come not from treating print and audio interchangeably, but from understanding the differences between them and figuring out how to use them to our advantage — all in the service of hearing what writers are actually trying to tell us.”

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