Why Do All These 20-Somethings Have Closed Captions Turned On?
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Why Do All These 20-Somethings Have Closed Captions Turned On?

As automatic captioning on TikTok and creative audio descriptions on Netflix go mainstream, so does accessibility

By By Cordilia James
Tue, Sep 20, 2022 8:38amGrey Clock 4 min

Closed captions are cool now. Just ask anyone under 40.

More viewers, especially younger ones, are using tools that transcribe dialogue in the content they’re watching online, from Netflix movies to TikTok videos. This isn’t just about watching “Squid Game” drama in Korean with English subtitles.

Closed captions—which display text in the same language as the original audio—have been crucial for a long time for many people with hearing loss. They’re now a must-have for plenty of people without hearing loss, too, helping them better understand the audio or allowing them to multitask.

Recent surveys suggest that younger generations are viewing content with captions more than older generations, despite reporting fewer hearing problems.

In a May survey of about 1,200 Americans, 70% of adult Gen Z respondents (ages 18 to 25) and 53% of millennial respondents (up to age 41) said they watch content with text most of the time. That’s compared with slightly more than a third of older respondents, according to the report commissioned by language-teaching app Preply.

“I can’t think of a time in the past couple of months or years that I haven’t had subtitles or captions on,” says 23-year-old Ayem Kpenkaan, who also creates his own comedy videos. While he doesn’t have any hearing issues, he says it helps him focus on what’s happening on-screen, even with the sound on.

In recent years, Apple, Google and other tech companies expanded on-device auto-captioning options, while Netflix found creative ways to describe audio (not just dialogue) to viewers who are deaf and hard of hearing. The innovations—as well as the rising popularity of captions on social media—have helped eliminate some of the stigma associated with hearing loss, advocates say.

“People are hesitant to ask for accommodations in the workplace because they don’t want to stand out or make waves,” says Barbara Kelley, executive director of nonprofit Hearing Loss Association of America. As more people adopt captions, she adds, it becomes easier to ask for those aids.

Caption Popularity

Netflix now provides more colourful play-by-plays. Its new vampire slayer film “Day Shift” added colourful subtitles at certain parts of the movie. In the latest season of “Stranger Things,” subtitles amused viewers with rich descriptions such as “tentacles squelching wetly.” The number of people accessing captions and subtitles has more than doubled since 2017, a Netflix spokeswoman says.

People turn on subtitles and captions for many reasons—to learn a language, perhaps, or decipher a heavy accent or muttered dialogue. A lot of people complain about background music making it harder to hear dialogue. Captions can also facilitate multitasking and allow people to watch content in shared spaces without disturbing others.

Rachael Knoth, a 23-year-old artist in Dothan, Ala., says she has used captions for as long as she can remember. She says she hasn’t been diagnosed with hearing loss. Still, she finds it so hard to view anything without captions that if a video doesn’t have them, she won’t watch it.

“In class, when they play videos and they don’t have the captions on, I have to pay really close attention,” Ms. Knoth says. If she doesn’t, it’s common for her to misunderstand the speakers for a minute or two, she adds.

Improving Accessibility

The National Captioning Institute, a nonprofit that provides captioning services, introduced the first prerecorded closed captions in 1980. A decoder box was needed to view the captions until the 1990s when the U.S. government required electronics companies to build the technology into their TVs. Since then, efforts by people who are deaf and hard-of-hearing have led to the passage of legislation that ensures captions are available for videos online.

Initially, people had to manually transcribe a video’s audio. More recently, artificial intelligence has helped put automatic captions in apps such as YouTube and Facebook. TikTok launched its auto-generated captions last year, while Instagram followed earlier this year.

Scarlet May, a deaf content creator with 6.5 million followers on TikTok, says when she first joined, she could only watch content from creators who used sign language. Now, captions have exposed her to a whole new world of content.

“I can enjoy the app like everyone else,” says Ms. May, 21.

Many creators filled the accessibility gap by adding their own captions manually. Mr. Kpenkaan, who makes comedy videos, is among those who still do. These are “open captions”—they can’t be turned off. He sees inclusivity as a way to reach more viewers, and believes the open captions help more people get his jokes.

Mr. Kpenkaan plays around with placement, emojis and other features to add humour to some of his videos and engage more viewers. “Captioning is just another medium to be creative,” he says. The first TikTok he made with captions—a funny clip of him and a friend on a romantic swan-boat ride—remains his most popular TikTok video with more than 36.6 million views.

Turning On Captions

For those looking for captions to help them in their everyday lives, such as when you’re having trouble hearing your device in a noisy environment, one of the latest technologies comes from Apple.

Its Live Captions feature, available with MacOS Ventura and iOS 16 on the iPhone 11 and newer, lets users turn on a live transcript for any audio, whether it’s during FaceTime calls, in a streaming-video app or just picked up by the device’s microphone. Live Captions uses machine learning and keeps everything on your device, rather than sending it to Apple’s servers for processing. You can find it under Settings > Accessibility.

Google has a similar app for its Pixel phones, and this year’s Samsung TVs can automatically place captions on the screen in locations that won’t disrupt the view.

Social-media apps such as Instagram generate captions on uploaded videos by default, and make them available to turn on within the videos. (Creators can choose not to have captions, or to add their own open captions instead.) Snapchat users can turn on auto-generated subtitles for the app’s Discover page, and as of last year they can also use auto captions in their own recorded snaps.


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New research tackles the source of financial conflict and what we can do about it

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When couples argue over money, the real source of the conflict usually isn’t on their bank statement.

Financial disagreements tend to be stand-ins for deeper issues in our relationships, researchers and couples counsellors said, since the way we use money is a reflection of our values, character and beliefs. Persistent fights over spending and saving often doom romantic partnerships: Even if you fix the money problem, the underlying issues remain.

To understand what the fights are really about, new research from social scientists at Carleton University in Ottawa began with a unique data set: more than 1,000 posts culled from a relationship forum on the social-media platform Reddit. Money was a major thread in the posts, which largely broke down into complaints about one-sided decision-making, uneven contributions, a lack of shared values and perceived unfairness or irresponsibility.

By analysing and categorising the candid messages, then interviewing hundreds of couples, the researchers said they have isolated some of the recurring patterns behind financial conflicts.

The research found that when partners disagree about mundane expenses, such as grocery bills and shop receipts, they tend to have better relationships. Fights about fair contributions to household finances and perceived financial irresponsibility are particularly detrimental, however.

While there is no cure-all to resolve the disputes, the antidote in many cases is to talk about money more, not less, said Johanna Peetz, a professor of psychology at Carleton who co-authored the study.

“You should discuss finances more in relationships, because then small things won’t escalate into bigger problems,” she said.

A partner might insist on taking a vacation the other can’t afford. Another married couple might want to separate their previously combined finances. Couples might also realize they no longer share values they originally brought to the relationship.

Recognise patterns

Differentiating between your own viewpoint on the money fight from that of your partner is no easy feat, said Thomas Faupl, a marriage and family psychotherapist in San Francisco. Where one person sees an easily solvable problem—overspending on groceries—the other might see an irrevocable rift in the relationship.

Faupl, who specialises in helping couples work through financial difficulties, said many partners succeed in finding common ground that can keep them connected amid heated discussions. Identifying recurring themes in the most frequent conflicts also helps.

“There is something very visceral about money, and for a lot of people, it has to do with security and power,” he said. “There’s permutations on the theme, and that could be around responsibility, it could be around control, it could be around power, it could be around fairness.”

Barbara Krenzer and John Stone first began their relationship more than three decades ago. Early on in their conversations, the Syracuse, N.Y.-based couple opened up about what they both felt to be most important in life: spending quality time with family and investing in lifelong memories.

“We didn’t buy into the big lifestyle,” Krenzer said. “Time is so important and we both valued that.”

For Krenzer and Stone, committing to that shared value meant making sacrifices. Krenzer, a physician, reduced her work hours while raising their three children. Stone trained as an attorney, but once Krenzer went back to full-time work, he looked for a job that let him spend the mornings with the children.

“Compromise: That’s a word they don’t say enough with marriage,” Krenzer said. “You have to get beyond the love and say, ‘Do I want to compromise for them and find that middle ground?’”

Money talks

Talking about numbers behind a behaviour can help bring a couple out of a fight and back to earth, Faupl said. One partner might rue the other’s tightfistedness, but a discussion of the numbers reveals the supposed tightwad is diligently saving money for the couple’s shared future.

“I get under the hood with people so we can get black-and-white numbers on the table,” he said. “Are these conversations accurate, or are they somehow emotionally based?”

Couples might follow tenets of good financial management and build wealth together, but conflict is bound to arise if one partner feels the other isn’t honouring that shared commitment, Faupl said.

“If your partner helps with your savings goals, then that feels instrumental to your own goals, and that is a powerful drive for feeling close to the partner and valuing that relationship,” he said.

A sense of mission

When it comes to sticking out the hard times, “sharing values is important, even more so than sharing personality traits,” Peetz said. In her own research, Peetz found that romantic partners who disagreed about shared values could one day split up as a result.

“That is the crux of the conflict often: They each have a different definition,” she said of themes such as fairness and responsibility.

And sometimes, it is worth it to really dig into the potentially difficult conversations around big money decisions. When things are working well, coming together to achieve these common goals—such as saving for your own retirement or preparing for your children’s financial future—will create intimacy, not money strife.

“That is a powerful drive for feeling close to the partner and valuing that relationship,” she said.


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