Meetings No 21
Gender Equality the New Growth Factor
Atti Soenarso on the silent knowledge women have built up.
Cover Story
Women Deliver
Focus on the Women Deliver Conference.
Women Leadership
Dubai Women Establishment
A champion for women’s participation.
IMEX Launch
The “She Means Business” event
The Future Disrupted
Rohit Talwar on shocks that could overturn our world.
A Life Remembered
Tim “Avicii” Bergling.
Young Leaders
Gaining Edge Scholars
Learning, contributing and building the future.
Smart Cities
How Does a City Become Smart?
Lessons from Tel Aviv.
Motivating Using the Right Mindset
Scientist Alva Appelgren on praise and learning.
Economic Impact
Regarding Rwanda
Becoming one of Africa’s leading business events destinations.
IMEX Frankfurt
Innovation and Inspiration.
MCI Experience
Kim Myhre: The power of brand experiences.
Johan Hagegård
“The future isn’t at all what it used to be.”
Habits to Build Your Empire
Robin Sharma: Resist the saboteur!
Collaboration is key in winning association meetings.
Brain Check
Cecilia Björkén-Nyberg
On reading printed books and listening to audiobooks.
Why Is It Taken for Granted That I’m the Boss?
Roger Kellerman: More Space to Women!
ISN & YPO got Awards
Best Cities
launch global recognition award program.
19-21 November 2019
IBTM World
Launches Business Mentorship and Investment Programme.
28-29 August
IBTM China
introduces new Business Travel Summit at 2019 event.
61 offices in 31 countries
opens Hamburg office.
business intelligence
The Future of cities
under the microscope in Brisbane.
big meetings
World leading ear, nose and throat surgeons
to head to Brisbane.
big meetings
secures Flight Centre’s 4500-strong Global Gathering.
significant achievements
AIM Group International’s Annual Report Shows Steady Growth for 2018
Increased EBITDA and overall turnover, diversification of the business, major events realised and acquired are among the flagship results.
BestCities Announces New Strategic Business Development Group Chairperson
Beverly Williamson, General Manager of Business Development and Bids at Melbourne Convention Bureau, has been appointed to the role.
economic boost
Business Events to Bring $112 Million to Brisbane
Brisbane will receive the economic boost through new business events set to take place in the city over the coming years.
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Cecilia Björkén-Nyberg
Cecilia Björkén-Nyberg is Senior Lecturer in English, specialising in Literature, at Halmstad University, but is presently working at Malmö University. Her research field is the convergence point of literature, sound and music, the subject of her novel The Player Piano and the Edwardian Novel (Routledge 2015). Cecilia Björkén-Nyberg is interested in the difference between reading printed books and listening to audiobooks.

Do you listen to audiobooks? What are the positives and negatives compared to reading printed text?

Is there a difference between fiction and non-fiction?

Futurists believe that audio services can be the most revolutionary thing to have happened in the media industry. What will this entail?

Do we say reading or listening to an audiobook?

“Most say they’re reading a book, but as a researcher I take my starting point in the music and sound studies, so I willingly say listening. One explanation for saying ’I’ve read a book’ could be cultural status. The difference between entertainment and art; one shouldn’t have to apologise. But there are those who say that this is all changing.”

What difference does it make to me whether I read or listen to a text?

“One difference is that it’s easier to lose your way in an audiobook. You also miss out on how words are spelt. Such details become more diffuse. One thing often felt by audio listeners is that they don’t ’own’ the experience in the same way as when reading, despite the research saying the opposite. The biggest benefit as a listener is the holistic experience. Many I’ve spoken to say that when they listen, the experience leaves a feeling that could last for some time.

“Research shows that if you listen in a particular place that you return to, the narrative and feeling are resurrected, they become personified. This is something I can really relate to. Certain books that I listen to in the garden have a strong connection with soil and everything organic. I’ve heard a lot of people say this, especially in therapeutic contexts. If you listen through loudspeakers instead of ear pods, it becomes almost tactile. It feels as perceptible as touch, as though the voice is caressing your skin like a soft breeze. It’s fascinating how the senses interplay.”

Aren’t the memories in some way more fleeting when we listen?

“That’s correct. Reading a printed text will give you a more detailed account. You remember details, but listening gives you an emotional, holistic perspective. If you take reading comprehension in the traditional sense, like we measure it in schools, for example, then the printed book gives us the advantage of remembering certain parameters. At the same time, the emotional part is very important in helping us to understand a text. If you don’t understand how somebody feels, then you’ve missed something.”

Has anything ever surprised you in your own or in somebody else’s research?

“If anything, the persistence of the myth that we are less attentive when listening. There is research that shows there is no great difference. This also applies to something known as Phenomenal Consciousness. For example, when you’re sitting on a bus listening to a book, it’s not necessarily annoying to hear people’s voices around you, especially not if the theme of the book and your surroundings interplay with each other. It can be enriching.”

Is it easier to identify with something written from a first person perspective?

“When you read a first person narrative you are usually closer to the actual experience compared to a third person narrative. But despite the loss of intimacy, you can still go into some characters and see it from their perspective. We can experience things from the perspectives of many people in this way. Virginia Woolf used this technique. She seemed to enter a person’s mind and follow all their thoughts, and she shifted between different people without warning.

“I am currently looking at research that shows that reading a book where the perspective is constantly changing is a much more cognitively demanding process compared to a first person narrative, and I am investigating how this relates to listening to literature.

“For example, if you’re listening to Virginia Woolf and shifting between the various streams of consciousness, the narrator will change their tone to let you know which character you are going in or out of. I think this makes the story much more intricate. They will also use dialects, which are a great help in understanding the various hierarchical roles and positions in the story. When reading with your own inner voice there is a tendency to miss this aspect.”

Everything you learn, read and experience in a day is stored in a temporary memory. During REM sleep, the memories that are important to you are transferred to a long-term memory. New memories from Virginia Woolf’s book are stored together with the memories that are already programmed there. To each memory is added an emotion, and the stronger it is the more important it is to us. So, emotions are an important part of remembering something.

“The interesting thing about Virginia Woolf and modernist prose is that it urges us to enter somebody’s consciousness because that’s where interesting things take place. It’s as though the circle ends when you listen, and it generates the same process for the listener as for the person writing. Absorbing her prose ought to be very difficult actually because of the many levels in the text. Research into Theory of Mind has shown that the more complex the prose the more difficult it is to remember it without looking at the text. A narrator could facilitate that process, but it requires an exceptionally skilled narrator.

“We think in mental images when both reading and listening. A good example of this is the bestseller The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins. The book is about a woman who, due to personal problems, becomes addicted to alcohol and we follow her in her daily life. Readers who discussed the audio version in a blog describe it as perilously enjoyable when she pours herself a gin and tonic and takes the first gulp. The voice describes it so well. I can’t imagine it being the same experience when reading the printed version. The narrator communicates that moment with their voice in a fantastic way. It is very emotive. It shows the emotional potential of the voice – for better or for worse.”

Anne Mangen, professor at the Reading Centre, University of Stavanger, writes that those who read a novel on paper find it easier to reproduce the chronological order compared to those who read it in an e-book. Does this also apply to listening to an audiobook?

“Yes, it does. This is in line with what I said earlier about a holistic perspective. In a text it is easier to remember the order in which the plot plays out.”

How good is reading comprehension when comparing fiction with non-fiction?

“From a learning perspective, the best way is to read the printed text while listening to the audio version. This gives the optimum reading comprehension. This is especially important for people with a functional impairment such as dyslexia. They find it difficult to only read or only listen. Being able to hear the prosody, or rhythm, is vital for them. It could affect their own speech because when they hear a sound image pronounced it fastens easier.”

Read to learn. Is there any difference?

“That somewhat depends on what you’re learning. I consider the experience to be an important part, especially in today’s society where young people are used to experiencing things. I truly believe that audiobooks could entice young people to read more and enter a fictional world where they become receptive to the classics and an increased cultural capital. You utilise their culture: YouTube, music, computer games, etcetera. The audiobook slots in nicely here I’d say. It’s about narrative in general.

“But the printed book is better for improving reading speed.”

But what if I’m studying history or chemistry?

“Chemistry wouldn’t work as an audiobook …”

Why is that?

“Because chemistry consists of visual elements like tables and illustrations that facilitate learning. But when it comes to bringing history to life you can use a voice and sound effects to create a virtual reality. If you have to learn dates and other facts, then a printed book is better.”

Is natural science at all better on paper?

“Yes, I’d say so, especially if it’s factual knowledge.”

Is there any difference between reading speed generally between reading from paper and listening?

“Yes, reading speed is slower for audiobooks. When we read text, we tend to skip words and meanings, something we’re not always aware of, and it irritates a lot of people that they can’t do that when listening to audiobooks. I have students who say that were forced to listen for twelve hours. You have to put it in relation to the advantage of being ’forced’ to listen to parts that you can’t skip.”

How are we affected by listening to a message that somebody has written?

“When something is read out loud the voice is vitally important in how we receive the message. Different voices can have an enormously different effect on us. Do we need one voice for a negative message and one for a positive, for example? And what would be the effect of the same voice for all messages?”

If I were to write something for somebody to listen to, should I think differently?

“These days people press ’Send’ without even considering how they’ve expressed themselves. If their messages were to be read out loud it would be pretty shocking. How should we handle messages that are corny, threatening or patronising? What happens to us? According to research, teachers should be careful when using recorded audio files with a lot of negative feedback to students.”

Amy Webb, futurist and expert in technology changes, says that audio services could be one of the most revolutionary things to have ever happened in the media industry. What does that mean?

“That’s a very interesting and complex question. I think we’ll become more attentive to the various voice shifts. We’ll put much greater demands on how a voice sounds and perhaps become better listeners generally.”

Today’s speech synthesisers would need improving in that case …

“Yes, we can hear straight away when there’s a person behind the voice. A robot voice has much less pitch variation. The small details are what we react to. Speech synthesisers pronounce names, for example, according to strange pronunciation rules and we react, just as we react when somebody uses the wrong stress or mispronounces something. And many people dislike the lack of human contact. People dependent on speech synthesisers due to a disability such as a visual impairment, for example, have asked me ’Are we supposed to be content with this’ on hearing the same message being read by an actor.

“When listening to audiobooks we notice phrasing or breaks that we otherwise wouldn’t have considered. This happens spontaneously during the reading and nothing you can programme in. It’s the spontaneous things that we appreciate. It’s the same when performing music. It’s not just playing according to notes, but the small things like phrasing that separates a great musician from an average one.”

It must be more difficult to get emotionally attached to a synthesiser?

“It’s very difficult to get emotionally attached to a synthesiser. On the other hand, we can form a relationship with a human voice in a television series, we are part of that person’s life without knowing them. People who live alone can experience great companionship with a voice, they know it’s always there. You can switch it on when you like and listen to it. It becomes a companion. Not being able to talk to the voice is I think of less significance. Just having a human voice that speaks and which I can relate to can be quite liberating.”

I interviewed Anders Sigrell, professor of rhetoric at Lund University. He said we’re not taught to listen.

“There’s some truth in that. Many people today only talk and never listen. I believe that audiobooks can train us to listen – and stay listening despite maybe thinking we have something else to do. A good intrigue in a crime novel could make us listen, and a good narrator of a less eventful story could help us to hear something else behind the words.”

I’ve wondered why I’ve never fallen for audiobooks. Grandad always said ’patience, my son’. I think I give up because I’m not allowed to do it at my own pace.

“We don’t have control that’s for sure, but we have to let others narrate to us at their pace. That’s the very essence of what I’m dealing with. The meeting with the other voice through literature and differences.”

Some people like to do things while they’re listening; cleaning, working out …

“Yes, that’s quite common. Maybe more so among the younger generation.”

Do you have any advice for audiobook beginners?

“Create a special listening place, with dimmed lighting perhaps. That’s just as important as when watching a film. The ritual. I make listening an activity. I decide to listen for two hours without interruption, and when the two hours are up, so is the activity. Then it’s a different thing entirely. You can of course make food at the same time, many find that of benefit, but if you want the same feeling as at a cinema then you have to take your time.”

The voice. Why does the voice fascinate you so much?

“There are many reasons, one is that I find the transient nature of the voice to be magical. There is only a brief moment – if we’re not recording the voice that is. We first got that opportunity 140 years ago when Thomas Edison invented the phonograph to create an album, like a photo album but to immortalise the voices of the dead.”