This Site Focuses on the Written Medium

Once you have been around this ministry for a while, you may come to ask the question “Why is this ministry focused on written text largely to the exclusion of videos, podcasts, and so on?”

It’s a good question. This page sets out to explain why this is so.

For a given level of comprehension, reading is faster than listening

Most people can read substantially faster than normal human speech (by at least 100 WPM). This does not necessarily translate into a speed advantage since you can nowadays adjust the rate of audio playback (e.g., to 1.5x speed or 2.0x speed) to listen to audio at equivalently fast speeds. The issue then is not on raw speed per se, but on how fast one can take things in without compromising comprehension. For a given level of comprehension, humans can read faster than they can listen. This is not so much because of the sensory mechanisms that underpin the processes (visual vs. auditory, respectively); we are able to take in information via reading faster than listening not because our visual system is faster/more efficient than our auditory system (as if the number of bits of information our eyes can refocus on every second is vastly greater than the number of words our ears can differentiate every second), but because text as a medium allows for instantaneous jumping between words, phrases, sentences, paragraphs, and even whole sections, while the other mediums (audio, video) do not:

  • When reading, it is trivially easy to go back and re-read a paragraph or section to cross-examine points made or review information.
  • In reading long sentences with complicated flows of logic, you can take things one step at a time and check back in the sentence to make sure you are following along correctly.
  • Etc.

Since learning is relational (“neurons that fire together wire together”), this consideration is huge, and is the main reason why text reigns supreme: text as a medium makes it easiest to instantly compare, connect, and relate information. Full stop. You can do the same stuff with audio if you rewind it and take your time… but that’s the whole point. Text as a medium gets in the way less, and is therefore faster in doing the things necessary to learn and process information.

Sidenote

Speed reading is mostly bunk

There is a biological upper bound on the speed at which reading proper – rather than skimming – can be done (our eyes can move only so fast, after all), but with some effort, reading speed can be increased to a degree, without any loss in comprehension. It comes down to practice, just like other skills. Building your vocabulary, becoming more familiar with complex sentence constructions, and other things like these will make you a faster reader.

However, any wild claims of 900 WPM (or even thousands of WPM) while maintaining perfect comprehension are utter rubbish. Please see:

Text as a medium also has other significant advantages

In no particular order:

  • Text resources can be seamlessly updated and revised over time to keep them up-to-date, unlike audio and video resources, which require many orders magnitude more effort to update and cannot be seamlessly updated (i.e., the “patchwork” shows). While this advantage is large no matter what kind of content is in view (continuous improvement is an essential part of long-term quality), it is especially important for Bible teaching, since less-than-optimal Bible teaching has the potential to do spiritual harm. Taking care to be cautious in what Bible teaching one publishes as a teacher is an important first step to heading off potential problems here, but being able to rapidly correct any issues is also very beneficial.
  • Text can contain images, figures, graphs, hyperlinks, footnotes, and so forth, while audio cannot. (Videos can contain most of these things too, incidentally – these are advantages of visual mediums). Since these things are very helpful, it widens the gap between text and audio.
  • Text documents can be scanned/skimmed to quickly find information upon brief visual inspection (looking through content headers to quickly find the section you are interested in, for example). Seeking through content visually is far easier and faster than seeking through audio content.
    • This is further enhanced by the fact that text can use visual styling of headers and so on to hierarchically organize content: content organization makes skimming many times more effective. Audio has no equivalent organizational mechanism to increase the effectiveness of skimming.
  • Individual text documents can be searched (Ctrl + f on Windows, Cmd + f on Macs) to find information instantly. Even the very best modern AI implementations of audio-search are far inferior to simple text searches.
  • Entire websites (that is, collections of online text documents) can be searched by making use of site-restricted search queries – appending your Google searches with, for example, site:bibledocs.org. Now contrast this with the difficulty of trying to track down some particular piece of content across hundreds of different YouTube videos!
  • Text can be copied and pasted, making text-based resources much better in terms of facilitating the taking of personal notes (compare notes in the margins of physical books) and the production of derived ministry materials that quote from already-published Bible teaching (compare this site quoting from Ichthys).
  • Etc.

Upshot

All this is not to say that there are not valid reasons for videos and podcasts to exist. For one thing, you can’t read a study in the car, when working out, when cooking, etc. This reason alone is enough to make media that can be converted to audio very useful in terms of being time-efficient. Listening to something, even if not perfectly optimal when compared to focused study done with text as the medium, is better than not taking it in period.

Moreover, some people are dyslexic and are much faster absorbing information by listening rather than reading (most people are the opposite, as above). Some people are visually impaired and physically cannot make use of text as a medium (or can only do so at a severely reduced capacity). You get the idea.

Nonetheless, for most people, when sitting down and studying in a dedicated fashion, text far outshines the other mediums. It is for this reason that this ministry largely focuses on text to the exclusion of all else. If you are interested in audio/video content, this site does offer some video recordings of study groups (see the BibleDocs YouTube channel). I would also recommend you check out Bible Academy, an in-depth YouTube teaching ministry centered around informational videos Khan-Academy-style. (You can rip the audio from the YouTube videos to get the studies as MP3’s).