Information access through ears only

 5 minute read

People turn toward audio information exchange. In 2021, 2 billion people in the world will use a digital assistant such as Amazon’s Alexa, and 50% of search queries will be made by voice commands. Books are being substituted with podcasts, writing delegated to machines. How those developments influence the way we receive knowledge and educate ourselves?

vs Audiobooks

The information consumption transition from visual to audio is happening on a fast pace. The average number of 58 million monthly podcast listeners in 2016 will rise up to 112 million by 2021. as a result, the ad market is predicted to reach 534 million by 2020 in the US.  According to a survey by The Reading Agency, people are too busy to read. Nevertheless, there is still an unquenchable desire for knowledge and an inability to spend time in silence. Podcasts are therefore filling the role of written material for information acquisition. Over a third of Americans entertain themselves with podcasts, 36% listen to them 3-10 hours weekly, whereas 12% devote over 12 hours weekly. At the same time, Audiobooks have gained popularity, with the revenue rising 32.1% in the first quarter of 2018. Having audio information platforms on rise, eBook sales decreased 3.2%.

Amazon started to blur the difference between ebooks and audio materials. Its app, Audible, has over 150 thousand audiobooks in its library. With a small fee, eBooks from Amazon’s Kindle can be upgraded to an audiobook to enable seamless switching between reading and listening. Digital assistant Alexa can play books on demand as well. However, with shortening attention span, young generations prefer podcasts over lengthy books.

Globally, there are 550 thousand podcasts available in more than 100 languages. Google is devoted to making the usage of the audio materials easy, searchable and multilingual. Using AI, Google transcribes all podcasts to be easily browsed and empowering listeners to scrub ahead in an episode. This way, users will gain more power over the content they receive. And last but not least, the transcription will allow the simultaneous translation of materials. It will allow information to be shared globally and accessible to the wider audience.

Consequences of listening
voice typing

Could there be dire consequences of constantly listening to information, no matter how educating? Psychologists emphasize the importance of silence in learning and memorizing processes. Without this silence, the brain does not have the capacity to encode the newly learned information. 48% of youngsters report problems with concentration at schools. The constant multitasking between several screens and other visual and audio distractions have a downward effect on efficiency.

Also, psychologists have repeatedly shown the importance of writing by hand on encoding new information in the brain, thus resulting in deeper levels of learning. Handwriting isn’t only beneficial for memory. The activity improves physical stamina, coordination, posture and rhythmical abilities. On a mental level, it also enhances creativity, resilience and the ability to interact socially. As typing is becoming the main way of text production, the changes to human learning abilities will be shown in the coming decades. Moreover, modern content creation is soon to be automatized, and machine learning becomes responsible for data journalism. Narrative Science created a natural language generation software called Quill. This software can produce industry reports and news stories without human intervention. Smart devices are also making it increasingly easy to send voice messages or dictate them. The future is about to become screenless and release humanity from the pressure of writing, typing, and reading.

Inequality in global
information access

Getting access to information may be easier and faster in wealthy, western countries. However, there is still a lot of inequality globally when it comes to publishing and accessing information. For instance, only 52% of the world’s population has access to the Internet. This results in a disadvantage to the remaining population for knowledge and learning opportunities. Besides, not all information online is available. One reason is the language barrier, as only 55% of websites are in English. Translating text online is becoming an easy, everyday phenomenon. The language barrier will disappear by 2030.

The real threat would be a privacy and censorship of information. Some content is restricted from the public, and access to it needs to be permitted by authorities. Several movements are leading the conversation of creating an open access to academic works. “The term “open access” refers to a free and unrestricted online availability of journal literature, made possible by the convergence of the tradition of scholarly publishing and the technology of the Internet,” as described on the movement’s website.

In 2018, Sweden announced to Open Science in open access publishing deal. ”We are now making clear that entering into agreements with gold Open Access publishers is an important route to reaching the goal of immediate Open Access, in contrast to previous negotiations with traditional publishers who offer hybrid Open Access journals which up to now has been the main focus of the Bibsam Consortium”, says Anna Lundén, Head of National Coordination of Libraries, National Library of Sweden. If more countries commit to global open information access the term of globalization might gain a new meaning.

Insight Box

Acquiring information is increasingly happening through ears. Podcasts and audiobooks are becoming more popular due to time limits and fatigue of looking at screens. Producing content is becoming easier with AI taking the reins. However, free access to information is not guaranteed. The new era of information sharing will reveal the global potential for education and fast-paced developments.

#AI #audiobook #future trends #global inequality #handwriting #podcast
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