Everyday Systems: Podcast : Episode 27

Audiodidact (Output)

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Hi, this is Reinhard from everyday systems.com. Last episode I started talking about a system I call audiodidact: using sound recordings to teach yourself stuff. As I mentioned, It has two components: input, which I covered last time, and output, which I'll talk about today.

On one level, Audiodidact output is what it sounds like: you talk into a voice recorder. How is this didactic? Well, it's as deeply auto didactic as you can get. By talking, you learn about yourself. The Socratic injunction to know thyself.

I do audiodidact output on several time scales. The most basic scale is seconds, a few seconds at a time. I carry around a recorder with me an mumble into it for a few seconds whenever I get a bright idea or want to blow off steam. Until recently, people would have thought I was crazy walking down the street talking to myself, but now with cell phones it seems perfectly normal. I also do audiodidact output on the scale of minutes, 7 minutes, to be precise, which I'll describe at the end of this podcast.

Once a week or so, I listen to the week's recordings and transcribe them. The transcription is a tad time consuming, but it's not too bad, once you get a sense as to how loquacious you should be, and it's fantastic for your typing skills. Beats the pants off of mavis beacon. And it forces you to review what you said, at least once. Which is good in terms of this being a meaningful exercise in self knowledge.

I used to do audiodidact with an analog micro cassette recorder, but for the last year and a half I've been using an Olympus DS-2 digital recorder, which is fantastic. It's as simple to use as an analog recorder, gives much better sound quality (it's what I use for these podcasts), and it produces digital files which you can easily back up or muck with on the computer -- you transfer the files with a USB cable. The only downside is that it produces WMA files instead of mp3, but they're easy enough to convert.

What are the kinds of things I speak into the recorder when I'm recording just a few seconds at a time? 1. Todos, tasks 2. creative ideas for work, my websites, self-improvement projects, podcasts, whatever 3. words of anger or exasperation which it's good to give vent to but perhaps not to the person who inspired them. I call this auto therapy, and 4. just sort of diary entries. I'll say a few words about each of these.

1. Todos. Ordinary todos are probably more efficiently dealt with on pencil and paper -- or punch card -- , but audio nagging is great for stubborn stuff that you just don't want to do. It's embarrassing to listen to yourself repeat the same todo for weeks on end. I have nagged myself into taking care of things I never could have brought myself to do otherwise.

Audio todos are also great when you're not really sure what it is you want to do. You have a general idea, but it's still a little murky. By talking it through, by making slightly off resolutions for a few days, you get a better sense of the problem. You wind up with a more doable todo.

2. creative ideas. As I mentioned in the urban ranger podcast, you think better when you walk. But it's awkward to write while walking. Talking into a recorder, on the other hand, is the most natural thing in the world. Urban ranger and audiodidact are very closely intertwined for me.

3. Autotherapy. Talking into a recorder is a great way to blow off steam without injuring or offending anyone. Most people know me as a nice mild mannered person, but I have screamed curses into this thing like you wouldn't believe. And it really gets it out of your system. It's cathartic. I might not be known as such a nice mild manner person without this.

And this isn't exactly therapy, but talking into a recorder makes you more comfortable talking to other people. It's private speaking prepping for public speaking. When you listen to it later, you get used to the sound of your voice, to the sound of your ideas. People who are not used to the sound of their own voice always say they hate it. But it's not like most of us have these awful voices. We're just not use to hearing them.

4. Audiodiary.. When I was a teenager, I sometimes kept a diary. I tended to make entries in my diary only when some awful crisis was going on, and then when things calmed down, I'd be so embarrassed by what I'd written that I'd tear the whole thing up. The great thing about carrying around an audio recorder with you on a regular basis is that it gives you a way to keep a much more even keel diary, that more accurately reflects the full range of your experience. It's not just crisis mode. In terms of self-improvement, this wider spectrum gives you a much better basis of self-knowledge on which to act. The downside is that it's a little boring, but my god, when it's your own boring stuff, it's mesmerizing.

OK, so much for seconds scale audiodidact. What about minutes?

This I started much more recently, just this year in fact. The idea is that forcing myself to talk about something for a slightly longer period of time might make me consider it more deeply. So for the last few months, I've been giving myself a topic every morning, and then talking about it into my recorder for seven solid minutes. Seven was a compromise between depth and getting to work on time. The topic could be a book I'm reading, or a friend, or a problem I'm trying to solve. I try to keep rambling to a minimum and really focus on the topic, the point is to go a little deeper than with the seconds scale. I think it's too early to report on how useful this minutes scale audiodidact will be, but the initial signs are promising.

As I've mentioned in previous podcasts, I'm learning and practicing a bunch of foreign languages, so I'm using this minutes scale audiodidact to help with that by alternating the language I use every day for my 7 minute recording. Although I might lose a little in terms of profundity of thought in a foreign language, it's a great way to actually practice speaking the language. And you have this record of your progress (at least hopefully there's progress). My dream is that years from now I'll be able to listen to some of my earliest recordings of me speaking Hebrew or french, contrast them with my latest, and be amazed at the progress I've made. We'll see. My foreign language topics tend to be a little more mundane than my English language ones. I might just describe what I'm seeing around me in the room I'm in. I might just do a common scenario, like an introduction, talking about myself, my wife, my kid, my cats, etc. And when I listen to it I can hear what I need to work on most.

The last thing I use audiodidact output for ties in with input. I read books out loud into my recorder and then listen to them. I only do this with books that are particularly difficult, or important or beautiful, that I really want to pay serious attention to. And more mundane texts in foreign languages I want to practice. For example, I've been reading the King James Bible, and the Martin Luther bible in German, and some Plato and Xenophon and Shakespeare and Nietzsche. If I weren't reading out load, I simply couldn't force myself to give these books the serious attention they require. I'd be too beat from being a father and working full time. My mind would inevitably wander. But by reading out load, with an imaginary audience -- my tape recorder -- my mind doesn't wander, I can give real attention, it's like I'm giving a performance. And the recorder is key to this attention. Back in college I'd been very impressed when I read that Abraham Lincoln read everything out loud, and that apparently this is what helped make him such a great orator. But I quickly discovered that it is possible to read out loud without paying the slightest attention to a word you are saying. You need to have an audience -- real or imagined. And with the voice recorder, you do. That fact that you can then listen again to it later is nice, but it's almost more important as a psychological trick for getting you to pay attention the first time around.

That's all for now. Thanks for listening.

By Reinhard Engels

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