If you’ve ever tried to read one of George R. R. Martin’s books in his Song of Ice and Fire series, then you know it’s going to take some time, as the books are typically over a thousand pages long. Even reading newspaper articles or Facebook updates, let alone full–length novels, can be difficult to fit into a busy schedule. With so many people using e–readers on the go, it’s clear that there is a need for faster reading.
Going as far back as the 1950s, speed–reading techniques have been a popular way to attempt to read a lot of text in a short time frame. In 1958, schoolteacher Evelyn Wood discovered that if she swept her finger along the page as she read, her reading speed was greatly increased. In the years since, speed–reading has remained attractive to readers who lead a busy lifestyle, and these days, they seem to be everywhere.
A new speed–reading app called Spritz promises to change the way we read and how we think about reading. The app uses a form of rapid serial visual presentation, or RSVP, which displays one word at a time, allowing your eye to stay in one place, thus increasing reading speed. Spritz developers boast that some people are reading at over 1,000 words per minute, allowing them to read even on small screens without having to zoom in or squint.
While Spritz is not the first digital speed-reader, it does offer something that traditional RSVP platforms don’t, and the developers says this makes Spritz unique and more likely to work with more people. Spritz utilizes a person’s natural “optimal recognition point,” or ORP, which is the place in a word that the eye looks for when reading. Spritz places every word in the same place, with the ORP highlighted in red, so that the eye has an easier time understanding the entire word at first glance. This allows for quicker reading and better comprehension.
In the Atlantic article “Is Speed Reading Possible?” writer Olga Khazan interviewed Keith Rayner, a psycholinguist at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. Rayner believes “all speed–reading claims are nonsensical,” and notes that after reading a few sentences using RSVP, “comprehension breaks down because words are coming at you faster than you can deal with them.”
The Spritz site doesn’t seem concerned with comprehension difficulties, but it does suggest that, while you could read a book in a day, you might not want to. ”Keep in mind that just because you’ve got a Ferrari, driving it around town at 200 mph is probably a bad idea,” the Spritz developers say. “You’ll find that you’ve got your own personal speed that feels just right for almost every kind of content.” A similar idea was used for the Stride and Prejudice app, an endless runner that allows players to read the entirety of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, and which I wrote about in a previous blog entry.
While the tools Spritz uses are not necessarily original, the introduction of new technology such as smartphones and smart watches, united with our newfound need for speed and the desire to consume as much information as possible in as short an amount of time as possible, makes this the perfect time for such an invention. It begs the question: What will books of the future look like? We already have the growing popularity of ebooks and e–readers; perhaps one day in the not–so–distant future, we will all be reading books on a watch, as stories appear on the screen one word at a time.
Did You Know?
One way to read, but not take up too much of your time, is to subscribe to the email book service DailyLit, offered by Plympton. DailyLit sends you excerpts from a text every day to read. You can choose to have short excerpts or long excerpts, as well as when you want to receive the little bits of story; you can then read them at your own leisure. In this way, whenever you find yourself with a couple of free minutes, you have something to read on your mobile device or laptop—so long as you have access to your email. Like speed–reading, getting little chunks of books a day is a way to try to make reading easier and more convenient.
Rooster, on the other hand, is a sister service that was also developed by Plympton. It comes in the form of an app (currently only compatible with the iPhone or other iOS 7 devices) that requires a paid subscription, and with that subscription, you are given 15–minute chunks of pre–chosen books. Rooster’s aim is to take the guesswork (and frustration) out of choosing content. While to some it may not be appealing to have what you’re reading chosen for you, it might be attractive to others who become exasperated by the task of sorting through a lot of content during which time they could be reading instead.