I am quite excited about something genuinely new I read about this week.
Technology has solved many problems for humankind over the years, and arguably has often created problems to fit the solution. Sometimes you can see a definite need for something new, and other times you don’t recognise something as a problem until the solution is offered. And then you think… oh! That’s neat.
I don’t have a problem with reading, I love reading and do a lot of it. I read for pleasure, and I also I read to inform myself, to learn about new things, to relax, to research, for understanding new ideas.
I love my kindle and I love real books made of paper, and however tiring and stressful a day nothing beats escaping into some fictional world at the end of it – even for a few minutes if my eyes are fighting to close. But other reading I do every day is more functional of course: articles of professional interest piling up in my rss reader, journals and research papers, ‘how-to’ guides and training material – sometimes I wish there were some way of crowbarring the information and knowledge it contains into my head, without having to focus my eyes on the words themselves and read it. And I read pretty fast, compared to many people.
I have looked at various speed-reading programmes and theories and most seem to revolve around first eliminating time-wasting factors like internally vocalising the words read, and then to reducing eye movements across the page of text – finding ways to take in more words and information with fewer visual fixations, aiming ultimately to photographically scan a full line of text in a single instant. I first read this stuff 2 decades ago at uni, and to the best of my knowledge there has been nothing truly new in speed reading theory until now, even though the theories all pre-date digital media by a long way. The eye movements – saccades, they’re called – are what typically slow reading down.
Spritz is an application that changes everything, about the way text can be consumed. It starts by with the concept that every word, regardless of length, has an Optimal Recognition Point (ORP) – a spot where, if you fix your focus on it, you can readily take in the entire word with its sense and meaning.
Rather than try to get you to take in larger groups of words simultaneously as with traditional speed reading techniques, Spritz presents you with one word at a time – but the clever bit is that it aligns each word on the reading window so that the ORP is dead centre in the same spot each time (it is also highlighted in a different colour for greater focus and recognition). So, you read without any saccades. Your eye rests in the same spot whilst the words move – move in time only, you just have a single one flashed before you, at varying (user controllable) speeds.
Having tried the tests available online I was quickly able to work up to 600 words per minute – and still absorb 100% of the sense and meaning of what was presented. I don’t know what my ‘usual’ reading speed is, but average is 250 wpm. The developers also advise that training and practice rapidly improve this speed, with up to 1000wpm being attainable.
Now, the test text on their website you can experiment with (http://spritzinc.com) is promotional, non-technical, and relatively undemanding… but 600wpm, in a few minutes practice, is really exciting. I am imaging the contents of my reader being zapped through, actually read rather than skimmed, and being able to learn anything new so much faster… the possibilities are limitless.
Of course, I cannot imagine a greater waste of great writing, than to Spritz through it in moments. The difference is between things we need to read for informational professional reasons, and even things that might be interesting and pleasurable but are consumed mainly due to the facts they contain, and things we read for their own enjoyment. Great literary fiction is to be savoured, enjoyed and indulged within.
Whether a few minutes escape into a beautifully imagined reality and characters at the end of a challenging day, or a wonderful self-indulgent afternoon at the beach with the kindle, reading for pleasure will always be just that. Anyone dreaming of ‘Spritzing’ away a novel is to my mind really rather missing the point.
But for all that stuff that most people working in any kind of knowledge industry have to read every day, it’s going to be a killer. Right now it’s in its early days, they are seeking development partners to bring it to life – they have the technology available, but it’s going to need to be built into content delivery – browsers, readers etc. And they are hiring aggressively – technicians, developers, database experts (you need to be in Utah for this btw).
I can’t wait until they develop the interface to allow me to Spritz what I want to read – to paste in digital content, like a long article I want to absorb in 3 minutes or something. That for me will be the game-changing breakthrough. With the buzz going on around Spritz, I honestly think it probably won’t be long in coming.
Costa Connected, for Costa Blanca News, March 21st 2014 ©Maya Middlemiss, Casslar Consulting SL