It’s a weekday night, you settle onto the couch, turn on the TV and select what you want to watch. Chances are, if you’re young enough, you’ve also enabled close captioning (CC) or subtitles.
Whilst there is a difference between the two terminology, in this context they both refer to speech-as-text. Even Netflix, a streaming company with some of the highest subtitles and closed captioning standards, groups them both under a heading of subtitles.
(Close captioning is designed for the hearing-impaired to provide them a text description of what they would otherwise be hearing. Subtitles are a translation of what’s being said in other languages.)
What this shows us, is the common use of CC amongst millennial and Gen Z viewers, most of which do not suffer from any form of hearing disability and are perfectly able to understand the language they’re hearing. So why do they need CC?
One aspect to look at is how much they are doing whilst watching their shows. They are working on their laptops, playing games on their tablets, texting or video chatting on their phones. Without CC, they’ll be rewinding to catch the last few minutes they missed because they were either zoning out or distracted by another screen.
But it’s certainly not just a phenomenon for young people. There are many who are using them because they have middle-aged hearing loss or simply need help understanding what the characters on screen are saying. They use captions to focus more intently on the content.
Also, with content having more diverse casting, CC helps with following complex dialog in foreign or otherwise difficult accents.
Another reason can be related to shrinking living spaces, where cities are getting more crowded, homes are getting smaller and walls thinner. CC helps viewers keep the sound down so as not to wake sleeping roommates or neighbours in tight living spaces. Or help them keep their focus because living spaces are shared and there’s a lot of competing noises from other devices, not forgetting the person beside them who’s playing games on their tablet while texting with their friend.
Some mental health experts have commented that auditory processing is more easily impacted upon by distractions, and that there is a need to read [captions] to stay focused.
What about you? Are you also a close caption user using English CC despite having good hearing abilities and understanding English perfectly well? What are your reasons?