I am a fast reader. When I'm on the couch reading a book, my husband likes to record the seconds between page-turns. He finds my ability fascinating, and my friends often complain about my Goodreads updates jamming their Facebook feeds.
So what do I think of the new speed-reading technology Spritz? First, let me try to make sense of the "science" behind speed-reading.
Usually, we read books word for word, line for line. I just recently learned that for each word, the eye seeks a certain point called the "Optimal Recognition Point." Once you find this point, you recognize the word and realize its meaning. That is reading: word by word, meaning by meaning, and voilà, story line!
So here's the deal with Spritz: Spritz takes a book, takes a word from that book and adds a single red letter to each word. The red letter is the ORP. Then, Spritz presents all of the ORPs at the same space on the screen. In this way, our eyes don't move at all as we see the words. In theory, we process the information instantaneously rather than spend time decoding each word.
Of course, I experimented. On the Spritz website, you can try the program from 250 words per minute up to 600. (I get dizzy at about 550.) The idea works. I had no trouble following the rapidly flashing words with their oh-so-important ORPs. Yet, here is the concern: When speed-reading, how much do you, the reader, really retain?
Part of my job is reviewing books, and before I decide to do a write-up, I skim. I skim for language quality, quippy dialogue and beautiful descriptions — but in skimming, do I really "get" the message? No, of course not. To fully immerse myself in a book, I need to sit down, slow down and focus. The question is: does Spritz steal that experience from me?
Why are we in such a rush to finish books anyway? I guess I understand the use of Spritz for things like boring office notices or the latest state legislature. But a big part of reading is escapism. We read books to visit different places and meet people we may never have met before. Why rush it?
Yes, I read fast — really fast — but not 600 words per minute! And I don't read to show off; I read because I love to read. I'm worried that Spritz is making reading into a contest. ("Guess how many words I got through today!")
I think Spritz has its place in the business world, but I fear it may distort our more literary aspirations. Don't believe me? I dare you to read Dickens at hyper-speed.
Does speed-reading detract from the reading experience, or are you ready to be a literary super-human?
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