Startup creates superhuman speed reading app

Too much information: Some think reading is best kept slow.

A tech company claims its new app will quadruple average reading speeds to an incredible 1,000 words per minute. But does speed reading come at the price of deeper understanding – and fun?

This article could be read in 30 seconds. A student could get home from school and then finish ‘Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone’ in time for dinner. Dickens’s 800-page ‘Bleak House’ would be no problem – all it would need is one quiet afternoon.

This is the future of reading, according to a tech company called Spritz. It has created an app which it claims drastically improves reading speeds, from the average of 220 words per minute to a breakneck 1,000 per minute. Last week Samsung announced its latest phones and e-watches will use this technology, with many major companies expected to follow suit.

We usually read by scanning across blocks of words in paragraphs, but Spritz removes the time wasted with eye movement by rapidly flashing one word of a sentence after another. Its creators claim to have identified each word’s ‘optimal recognition point’ – the letter in a word upon which the eyes focus when reading. In the word ‘sentence’, this is ‘n’, in ‘reading’ it is an ‘a’. By keeping the key letters in the same position as each word appears, a reader does not have to move their eyes and processes the sentence at a previously superhuman speed.

While e-readers give access to an entire library on one screen, Spritz allows someone waiting for a bus to read ‘Romeo and Juliet’ on their wrist watch. It may also be an immense aid to those with dyslexia, as it allows the reader to concentrate on one word at a time.

Yet while Spritz says that its users will retain as much information as if they were reading normally, some experts wonder if it is simply replacing real comprehension with skim-reading — which is fine for scanning Wikipedia, but not much use when grappling with ‘Paradise Lost’. And while readers can normally make notes on a book or take time out to reflect by staring out of a window, Spritz demands constant attention as each word relentlessly follows another.

Pausing for thought

Many believe Spritz has the potential to reinvigorate reading for an entire generation of people who have been distracted by television and computers. Imagine the educational implications of finishing a year’s reading in one month. Academics like Nicholas Carr complain that the internet has ruined our ability to focus. But the app will right this wrong by making our reading concentration better than ever.

Others are not so enthusiastic and think the app will promote a generation of shallow readers who will have read lots but understood little. They point out that reading should be a relaxing experience and a place for imaginations to run wild — this cannot happen if we are glued to a constant stream of flashing words.

You Decide

  1. Would you read more often with the Spritz app?
  2. Do you learn more from skimming lots of books or concentrating on just a few?

Activities

  1. Try an experiment. Take the first paragraph of this story and write it out on squares of paper one word at a time. Get into pairs and take turns to flash up the cards one by one in the correct order to your partner. Does that make it easier to read?
  2. Read the review of Nicholas Carr’s book in the Become An Expert section. List three arguments he makes, and three objections the reviewer raises.

Some People Say...

“Spritz will change not just how we read, but how we think and learn about the world.”

What do you think?

Q & A

Does it matter since I don’t read much anyway?
Many people find reading boring because they become distracted and reading takes time. Spritz might change this because readers will receive information so quickly, their minds will not have time to wander. However, it could also put people off reading because they feel they do not have time to dwell on parts of a story that interest them. It is the uncertainty over how people will react to Spritz which makes it exciting.
Could I finish a long literature course in days?
Probably not! Literary writing, especially poetry, generates meaning by contrasting individual words next to each other. You can’t understand a poem just by reading it through quickly once as each line must be analysed. Spritz will help a reader to know a story, but not the detail.

Word Watch

1,000 per minute
This is not the only speed available — Spritz’s website currently demonstrates 250 to 500 words per minute, but promises 1,000 will follow. The company does not expect everyone to be able to read at incredible speeds at first and it thinks most people will have to practise before they can reach top speed.
E-watches
Samsung already has an e-watch on the market, but most technology websites agree that the market is still in its infancy. Other large companies like Apple are expected to launch e-watches later this year.
Notes
Medieval manuscripts are often surrounded by beautiful gloss — notes made to help make sense of difficult ideas in the main text. These notes would sometimes turn into dialogues and arguments between different generations of scholars.
Focus
In his book, ‘The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains’, Nicholas Carr argues that the internet, with its many links and webpages designed to keep us clicking elsewhere, has ruined our ability to concentrate. He says of his own concentration, ‘Once I was a scuba diver in a sea of words. Now I zip along the surface like a guy on a jet ski.’

Subjects

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