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Tilting at Windmills

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April 5, 2007
By: Kevin Drum

YET MORE ON VLOGGING....Not to beat this vlogging thing to death, but here's a comment from Dan Drezner:

I suspect most people consume blogs very differently from vlogs. To consume a blog you actually need to read it, which implies that you've given it top priority among the things your conscious mind is processing at that moment. Vlogs, on the other hand, can be consumed more passively. Yes, you can watch your screen as a bloggingheads segment plays. And, certainly, there are small snippets of video that will command one's full attention. On the whole, however people will treat a vlog the same way they treat the television or the radio — it can be on in the background while the consumer is consuming other things.

Hmmm. Is that true? I really can't do that. Background music is one thing, but listening to an actual conversation while I read or write or have the TV on is beyond my multitasking capabilities.

How about the rest of you? Can you listen to vlogs in the background? Or do you need to actually pay attention, like me?

Kevin Drum 5:12 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (64)

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I have to pay attention if I want to take it all in.

Posted by: The Fool on April 5, 2007 at 5:20 PM | PERMALINK

Actually I think Dan has it backwards. I can scan written text quickly to decide if there is anything of interest. I might only read the first sentence of each paragraph the first time through, and I might jump from one item to the next.

But with a video segment, access is sequential. Yes, you can fast-forward, but that usually works well only when someone has already told me (usually in text) to skip to 4:32 or something like that. I'm kind of forced to focus on it, to the exclusion of other things, or else (like a TV show only my wife is watching) ignore it totally.

Posted by: Joe Buck on April 5, 2007 at 5:22 PM | PERMALINK

I do not watch vlogs. Period. I do not have the time to listen to every "um" and "uh" from a speaker, who, as Kevin has pointed out, usually have little of consequence to say. I can gather 10 times the information by reading in the time it takes me to watch a vlong. I cannot multi-task them and have no desire to do so. The younger generation behind vlogging are doing a serious disservice to their ability to manage time and to filter important information.

My younger sister always said she could do her homework while listening to the radio. I could not. I always got better grades than her.

Posted by: David on April 5, 2007 at 5:22 PM | PERMALINK

There are certainly various quasi-mechanical chores I could do with a vlog playing in the background--sorting paper clips, filling my pill caddy with the week's vitamins, feeding my paper-shredder, darning some socks.

But if that's how it's done, or even if you're one of those people who can read or write or watch TV at the same time, why would anybody go to the bother of making a video? All they'd need to record is the audio.

Posted by: Swift Loris on April 5, 2007 at 5:31 PM | PERMALINK

I can't split my attention, but a co-worker listens to Air America all day long and gets a lot of work done.

Conclusion: People differ.

Posted by: tomtom on April 5, 2007 at 5:33 PM | PERMALINK

I agree with Drezner: audio formats are more passive than literary formats. Listening is more passive than reading.

I can't read and follow what a speaker is saying at the same time. Not vlogging, not the radio or TV. I can and do listen to the news or maybe a bloggingheads segment while I'm working around the house, doing the dishes, cooking, vegetating on the couch after work, etc.

Sometimes I elect to have voices coming out of my computer. Sometimes these voices are also being broadcast over other media. Sometimes they are not. Not really that different from turning the radio on.

Posted by: sleepy on April 5, 2007 at 5:46 PM | PERMALINK

I like to listen to vlogs while I am playing spider solitaire. Same with listening to NPR. I can't listen if I am playing chess, though.

Posted by: Mike on April 5, 2007 at 5:53 PM | PERMALINK

No vlogs for me. I just don't see the advantage, and have pretty much the same multitasking issues. Even background music is a problem for me if it has English words and I'm engaged in anything mainly verbal (i.e., writing).

Posted by: Mark L. on April 5, 2007 at 5:56 PM | PERMALINK

I listen to blogging heads while I fold clothes or do other chores, unless there's an episode of This American Life on deck. I can't pay attention to vlogs and also do other things on the computer. If my attention wonders and I open another browser tab, which happens more often than not, that's it for my concentration on the video.

Posted by: Kriston Capps on April 5, 2007 at 6:00 PM | PERMALINK

But if that's how it's done, or even if you're one of those people who can read or write or watch TV at the same time, why would anybody go to the bother of making a video? All they'd need to record is the audio.

I think this is the key. Vloggers want to be seen. They want to be recognized. No more of this mostly anonymous blogging!!!

Posted by: Chris on April 5, 2007 at 6:10 PM | PERMALINK

I can't attend to vlogs and do other (non-rote) stuff at the same time, and I actually tend to doubt that many other people do have this capacity. Human attention doesn't much work this way. It's like trying to hold two conversations at once. Maybe there are some people who are good at this, but I imagine they're outliers.

Posted by: Adam on April 5, 2007 at 6:11 PM | PERMALINK

Yeah, I'm strictly talking about verbal stuff. I can listen to TV fine if I'm eating dinner or washing the dishes or whatnot, but not if I'm doing anything verbal. I took Dan to mean that he could listen to to vlogs while reading or writing.

Posted by: Kevin Drum on April 5, 2007 at 6:12 PM | PERMALINK

I can poop and watch bloggerheads at the same time.

Posted by: jerry on April 5, 2007 at 6:13 PM | PERMALINK

If I'm going to watch something, I'm going to watch it. If it's just background noise I'm after, I'll listen to music while I do whatever else.

If you're going to check out a vlog but only listen to it without watching it then might I suggest this new thing called "podcasts". You get all the audible "ers", "ums" & "ahs" without the visible squirming & self-consciousness (I'm thinking of Pam Atlas in particular).

Posted by: raff on April 5, 2007 at 6:15 PM | PERMALINK

I prefer the art of reading posts, composing my thoughts, and returning a typed comment.
It might be an english major thing.
I tend to agree with Kevin.


Posted by: consider wisely on April 5, 2007 at 6:21 PM | PERMALINK

I'm doing it right now. But of course, you can't concentrate on 2 things at once, so while I'm reading, I'm mostly missing what is spoken.

Posted by: Linder on April 5, 2007 at 6:23 PM | PERMALINK


Posted by: Roger Ailes on April 5, 2007 at 6:26 PM | PERMALINK

I'm a monotasker. One thing at a time, or else I get confused.

Posted by: Vincent on April 5, 2007 at 6:34 PM | PERMALINK

I'm not much of a TV person. I am a big background noise person. My work is largely non-verbal and I've always tended to have the radio on in the background.

I wake up to NPR and generally put on music or stream NPR when I come home from work. If I want to read a book or have a conversation I turn it off. I generally leave it on if I'm skimmimg through the web but may hit mute or pause if I want to concentrate on something.

Podcasts are nice for the subway or for when I'm at work and working on something non-verbal (often).

I liked Ze Frank's snippets. His face and the editing were part of the content: a transcript wouldn't catch half of it. If they were more than a few minutes long I probably wouldn't have the patience, but you should take a look in that direction if you want to see the potential.

I like the bloggingheads format. Its nice to put a face on people and it personalizes the chatter in a way I find appealing. Cat-blogging serves a similar function in this neck of the woods. In the old days there used to be a picture of Kevin up top. Josh Marshall has always had his picture in the masthead. Its effective.

I can't be bothered sitting there watching it like a televison set but then again I can't be bothered doing that with a television set.

Posted by: sleepy on April 5, 2007 at 6:38 PM | PERMALINK

Since I read far faster than I can listen, I prefer written material. The exception is when the images are essential to the text.

Besides, isn't everyone more eloquent when they can rewrite/edit?

Posted by: ml on April 5, 2007 at 6:56 PM | PERMALINK

Well this is kind of funny because I'm actually watching/listening to the lastest bloggingheads episode right now in another window while I check out your blog and other sites. So, at least in my case, Dan is right.

For me it's basically like listening to online radio with the added bonus of actually being able to see the folks talking.

Posted by: Matt on April 5, 2007 at 6:57 PM | PERMALINK

It is a matter of priorities. If I have the TV on while online, I often end up missing huge chunks of even shows I like. No great loss for most commercial TV, especially with those damn ubiquitous graphics. If its a serious show such as a Book-TV interview, forget about it, not even worth trying to do both.

Now that March Madness is over, the cable is being shut off, at least until September. On the other hand, I cant imagine ever being without the net now.

Posted by: Michael7843853 G-O in 08! on April 5, 2007 at 6:59 PM | PERMALINK

VLOGs sounds like a disease of the colon: Restless anus syndrome; the embarassment of Bifurcated feces? Pfizer to the rescue, for those times you are afraid to flush. . .

Watching VLOGs, I am not so sure that the cringing satirical descriptors are not apt. . .

Posted by: Sparko on April 5, 2007 at 7:01 PM | PERMALINK

Yup, he's got it bassackwards. Video and audio are linear, not skimmable. There are no helpful subheads or pull quotes or highlighted text. They're not easily digested in little chunks. They're not appropriate for cubicle life.

In short: waste-o-bandwidth. Unless you look like Amanda Congdon.

Posted by: Trollhattan on April 5, 2007 at 7:05 PM | PERMALINK

I suppose I probably can listen to vlogs in the background. At my job, I often listen in on conference calls while I do other work, which is mostly reading and writing.

But I don't like the conference calls at work or vlogs. I don't have a choice about the calls; but I can say for sure, I won't be listening to vlogs in the background or foreground.

Posted by: Gary Sugar on April 5, 2007 at 7:09 PM | PERMALINK

I download bloggingheads to my iPod and listen when I jog. It's more distracting from the pain of running than listening to music which I have heard many times before, and since my jog is about an hour, that matches up well with a diavlog. The hour and twenty minute bloggingheads that occasionally pop up are a real challenge!

I haven't watched one on a computer screen in a long time and can't imagine why I'd want to. Somehow I survive without being able to access the links or read the comments. Not seeing their faces is a definite plus.

Posted by: santamonicamr on April 5, 2007 at 7:10 PM | PERMALINK

While the format, as I've argued before, has some potential, from what I've seen so far, I could give almost any vlog the attention it deserves while doing something else, having the vlog running in the background.

With the sound turned off.

The monitor, too.

(I'm not so sure of the "vlog" moniker, either. I mean, if we don't call web logs "wlogs" why "vlogs" for video logs or video web logs? It doesn't sound good, it doesn't look good, and it isn't even parallel to the formation of "blog"...)

Posted by: cmdicely on April 5, 2007 at 7:13 PM | PERMALINK

People who are vlogging while doing something else are usually not watching it, but listening to it.

I tend to have TV or radio shows streaming in the background when I do tasks like cleaning house, fixing things, organizing the sock drawer, or other things that don't require huge amounts of focus.

But I can't WATCH the vlogging and fold my socks. I can listen to it, but I can't watch it. And, to be honest, I don't listen to the vlogging. It's too many "uhms and ahhs," which is inefficient and frustrating. And also, it demands too much attention.

TV shows and radio shows generally follow a predictable pattern. The pacing of TV especially tends to be very predictable and very obvious, so on a certain level, I know when I can drift away from listening and not miss anything. The killer won't be revealed until the last 10 minutes, you know?

Vlogging doesn't have such a predictable format, so I would have to pay more attention when I listened to it (which I don't). For the same reason, BETTER TV or radio is actually harder to do chores to, because it breaks the predictable pattern, which means when I've drifted out, I've often and missed something subtle and important, so I gotta go back and watch the dang thing again.

For instance, I listened to Arrested Development's entire first season on my video ipod while doing miscellaneous chores around the house, and found that when I talked about it with people, I'd missed stuff. Then I actually watched one episode, I realized that not only were there very off-tempo jokes, but there were a lot of visual-only gags, and background gags, and jokes during cross-talk that were absolutely hilarious, and that I was missing. I was missing 60% of the show. The same cannot be said of "The Black Donnellys" or "Passions" or any show with a laugh track.

So, I can divide my attention, as long as each sense is focused completely on one task. I can't read a book and fold socks, but I can listen to a book and fold socks. And, of course, dividing my attention means I become X% stupider and more careless on each task I'm performing. I miss jokes on the radio show, and I accidentally pair a navy and a black sock because there was a particularly involved joke on the radio show.

Posted by: anonymous on April 5, 2007 at 7:14 PM | PERMALINK

There's an advantage to writing that's lacking in vlogs. Most are unwatchable.

Posted by: TJM on April 5, 2007 at 7:16 PM | PERMALINK

I'm usually reading blogs while watching TV or something else, so a vlog (or anything else with audio) is more of an interruption.

Posted by: Frank J. on April 5, 2007 at 7:18 PM | PERMALINK

Show me a vlog worth getting through and I'll let you know

Posted by: Cynthia on April 5, 2007 at 7:30 PM | PERMALINK

TV in the background is pretty standard for me. Videos on the internet running in the background is difficult to imagine, because the user would have to find the file, activate it and then go do something else while it ran in the background. The internet has to be engaged by the user, who is not just a passive observer of content scheduled by other people, which is why I have difficulty thinking on-line video files would be used as a background maker.

I sometimes listen to radio on the 'net in the background, though, so as streaming video becomes more sophisticated, perhaps it will be possible to have a video window open while surfing the 'net, as long as it is a long video like a movie or a TV station streaming on the internet. I could see having Brazilian TV streaming in the background during Carnival, but that would be TV on the net, not a video file purposely chosen.

Posted by: Brojo on April 5, 2007 at 7:30 PM | PERMALINK

I think you can date the beginning of the decline of western Civilization to the advent of television. (That included vlogging.) I'm serious. It has skewed everything. It is an unnatural perspective, and it has ruined everything.

Posted by: Tom on April 5, 2007 at 7:38 PM | PERMALINK
I think you can date the beginning of the decline of western Civilization to the advent of television.

I think you have an irrationally rosy view of what Western civilization was like before the rise of television, then.

Posted by: cmdicely on April 5, 2007 at 7:46 PM | PERMALINK

TV was the advent of the post-literate age, not the end of civilization.

Posted by: Brojo on April 5, 2007 at 7:48 PM | PERMALINK

People who claim that they can multitask in that manner generally have short attention spans, don't read much, are addicted to outside stimuli, and hold opinions that more often than not are underinformed and thus truly revelatory of their own personal limitations.

And if they're a member of the Bush family, such people run for president.

Posted by: Donald from Hawaii on April 5, 2007 at 8:33 PM | PERMALINK

Its all about negroes getting nude.

Posted by: John on April 5, 2007 at 8:35 PM | PERMALINK

Side note - It's relatively easy to disguise blog-reading as 'real' work when at the office. It's a lot harder to do so with a vlog.

Posted by: fiat lux on April 5, 2007 at 8:39 PM | PERMALINK

no, I don't listen to vlogs and do other things. if something is worth listening to, it is worth listening to with full attention. so basically i don't give vlogs my undivided or divided attention. for me, they are at most an amusing diversion.

Posted by: MP on April 5, 2007 at 8:41 PM | PERMALINK

If possible, Drezner's a bigger dolt than Yglesais. So who cares? Remember, he's the guy that had a write-in campaign to convince him who he should vote for in 2004. Even if it was just a cheap stunt to generate blog traffic, he's a wanker. If it wasn't just a stunt . . .

Posted by: JeffII on April 5, 2007 at 8:45 PM | PERMALINK

I agree with Kevin that v-logs are kind of dumb. Most people aren't engaging enough (no matter how cool they think they are or how many elitist Apple devices they have) to pay attention to. However, the written word takes the person out and leaves the idea.

My take: Blogs are awesome, an essential part of engaged intellectual discourse and the political world. V-logs are a distraction and frankly kind of annoying.

Please take my Apple snark with the appropriate grain of salt.


Posted by: Chad on April 5, 2007 at 9:21 PM | PERMALINK

You see the word in text communication. I see these words written as letters and strung together to make sentences and thoughts. When you communicate with video the word is not seen. You see lips and toungues and jaws move. Facial expressions. Words are only heard. Fascinatingly, with digital and tape the word became visual and audio recordable. Now we can remember and copy the word visually and with audio just like we can with text. Still, I do not think text will be replaced because it is a medium for the eyes only. To see words, rather than the speaker, has an appeal that will not be lost by the domination of video, the combinaiton of the visual and audio.

Posted by: Brojo on April 5, 2007 at 9:54 PM | PERMALINK

It'd have to be a pretty special and recommended vlog to bother. Most people have a hard enough time expressing themselves in writing where, by definition, they have reviewed their message. Equally, if it's a complex statement, one can re-read to derive the correct understanding. All more quickely done by reading than listening.

Maybe someone out there has a vlog variable. viewing velocity control.

And what do you reply with? Another vlog? So it's basically a monologue. On a blog you have a choice to skip the dross by just scanning the senders.

Posted by: notthere on April 5, 2007 at 10:12 PM | PERMALINK

Vlog is almost always in the background

Posted by: veloer on April 5, 2007 at 10:13 PM | PERMALINK

Vlogs are a terrible idea. More muti-task dumbing down garbage. This country needs to pay more attention to the matter at hand, not less. To pay attention means to be there and focus. If you're looking for entertainment, that's another thing. But to pretend you're doing justice to thought by "doing Vlogs" is a farce. It's so American to just try to make everything simpler and simpler till it ripens and finally rots.

Posted by: s on April 5, 2007 at 10:15 PM | PERMALINK

Tom: I think you can date the beginning of the decline of western Civilization to the advent of television.

Hmmm, Socrates blamed it on the decadent younger generation. Jared Diamond dates it to the switch from being hunter-gatherers to farmers. Personally I think it was caused by letting people write with their left hands.

Reporter: "What do you think of Western Civilization?"

M.K. Gandhi: I think it would be a good idea.

Posted by: alex on April 5, 2007 at 10:16 PM | PERMALINK

My personal preference is to limit my vblog watching to occasions when I practice riding my unicycle and juggling

Posted by: rea on April 5, 2007 at 11:07 PM | PERMALINK

"Socrates blamed it on the decadent younger generation."

And shortly thereafter, was executed for corrupting the youth of Athens . . .

Posted by: rea on April 5, 2007 at 11:14 PM | PERMALINK

video is SLOW and useless -it's just noise, and you'd have to stop thinking to listen. You can READ 5 different blogs/pages/sites all at once, think 50 things write some stuff and surf -- in the same time it takes to try to decipher one boring vlog.

vided bad bad bad. except for old AVengers episodes and the League of Gentlemen.

Posted by: fred on April 5, 2007 at 11:32 PM | PERMALINK

What? Sorry -- I was just reprogramming my coffee machine to interface with my cell phone while watching BBC. Did you say something?

Posted by: brooksfoe on April 6, 2007 at 12:22 AM | PERMALINK

The voices in my head keep me from learning anything new, but I can usually manage to spew the Talking Points that I have been told to use.

Posted by: PA Troll on April 6, 2007 at 12:24 AM | PERMALINK

I don't see vlogs ever gaining TV status for being on in the background... Most are so poorly designed that I can't read blogs while listening. I'm stuck with that window.

It's like a cable television - it plays one thing at a time.

I can read one thing at a time: But I only need to scan it, and I can type as fast as I think, well, almost. And I can decide to read more deeply. And while reading I can skip around, load other pages, link forward and backwards...

Posted by: Crissa on April 6, 2007 at 12:41 AM | PERMALINK

I found the Firedoglake video roundups to be very concise and just...better at conveying the information.

Posted by: doug r on April 6, 2007 at 1:53 AM | PERMALINK

I dont bother reading vlogs. ever. If someone cant be bothered to organise their thoughts and write them down, why the hell should I care what they say?

Posted by: firefall on April 6, 2007 at 5:43 AM | PERMALINK

vlogging.... 1/4 the content at 1000x the bandwidth. hmm.

Posted by: cleek on April 6, 2007 at 7:36 AM | PERMALINK

What Joe Buck says. The problem with a 5:00 minute vlog piece is that I waste 5:00 minutes of my life before I can know if the vlog piece was worth watching in the first place. I can scan the piece as text in about 0:15, make a decision, then go back and read it in 2:00.

Posted by: bob on April 6, 2007 at 9:57 AM | PERMALINK

Jared Diamond dates it to the switch from being hunter-gatherers to farmers. Posted by: alex


Unless you took different Western civ classes than the rest of us, I believe that it's beginning dates from this transition. More importantly, Diamond never wrote any such thing.

Posted by: JeffII on April 6, 2007 at 11:30 AM | PERMALINK

Personally, I find it quite hard enough to hold one coherent thought at a given moment. How could I possibly truly entertain two?

I've always suspected that much of what people call "multitasking" is really multifaking. They pretend to processing powers they don't really have; it's just a modern form of boasting.

Posted by: frankly0 on April 6, 2007 at 11:40 AM | PERMALINK

Blogs have changed me from a reader to a writer. I have written more at PA than anywhere else, ever. Vblogs will probably have the same affect, making people video producers instead of just watchers. The medium of the internet encourages people to become participants.

Posted by: Brojo on April 6, 2007 at 11:55 AM | PERMALINK

I've always suspected that much of what people call "multitasking" is really multifaking. They pretend to processing powers they don't really have; it's just a modern form of boasting. Posted by: frankly0

I think you confuse "multi-tasking" with the idea of the singing unicyclist juggler. Multi-tasking doesn't necessarily mean conducting a conference call while writing a dissertation while watching Casablanca on your laptop while getting a blow job. Multi-tasking means being able to undertake more than one assignment/job/task, but not the ridiculous idea that you are doing it simultaneously like some octopus-armed man with two brains.

We all multi-task just walking to the car. That is unless you personally need to really concentrate on getting from the front door to the garage/car port/driveway.

Posted by: JeffII on April 6, 2007 at 11:59 AM | PERMALINK

of course, it all depends whos vlogging -
if its Atlas Juggs, its rather fun to watch her little gyrations while she sings a love ditty to nasralla...

Posted by: christAlmighty on April 6, 2007 at 12:01 PM | PERMALINK

Text rules!

Posted by: wendyxc on April 6, 2007 at 12:18 PM | PERMALINK

These guys, Drezner, Yglesias, etc., are just trying to appear to have a reason for their video blogging other than "vanity and suck-ass self-promotion".

But they can carry on. It's pathetic to me, but it will probably work (for Yglesias at least). I mean, people watch American Idol and Tim Russert.

Posted by: luci on April 6, 2007 at 1:38 PM | PERMALINK

Vlogs? Dialup.

Posted by: gkoutnik on April 7, 2007 at 7:22 AM | PERMALINK



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