Spritz speed-reading app: A blessing for modern readers?

16 April 2014 by in Book publishing

In today’s information society the amount of text we receive on a daily basis is vast; newspapers, magazines and books now compete for our attention with blogs, emails, texts and social media discussions. But traditional reading can seem time consuming; for many, the need to be able to read more text and faster is a dilemma they can relate to easily. According to Forbes, an adult reading at an average speed of 300 words per minute spends at least two hours reading every day in order to keep up. Imagine the difficulties of a research student reading several one thousand page textbooks in a couple of months (yes, I know what I’m talking about where the need for superhuman speed-reading powers is concerned; and a photographic memory, for that matter).

Spritz Speed-Reading App

Spritz speed-reading app: A blessing for modern readers?

So, what do we do? Read less, always having the feeling that we’re missing out or having to keep up? Be more selective and risk not having enough time to read what we actually want to read for pleasure? Or use speed-reading techniques, which may limit our ability to comprehend what we’re reading, let alone enjoy it?

Speed-reading techniques can involve skimming, a process that involves visually searching the sentences of a page for clues to meaning, or meta guiding, by visually guiding the eye using a finger or a pen. Or, more recently, a speed-reading app called Spritz, which promises to change the way people read, and make communication faster, easier, and more effective.

According to Spritz’s developer your eyes can easily become fatigued by having to move from word to word and line to line. We only need 20% of our reading time for processing content; the remaining 80% is taken up by scanning for the next ‘Optimal Recognition Point’ (ORP).  From a more technological point of view traditional reading also consumes large amounts of physical space on a screen, which limits reading effectiveness on small displays and involves scrolling, pinching, and resizing a reading area.

Spritz works against this and removes the time consuming part of eye movement by using a technology that shows each word on a specially designed ‘redicle’ frame at the desired speed, and highlights the ORP of each word in red. The available Spritz speeds start at 250wpm and go up to 1000wpm, for those with a bit more experience. Spritz uses only thirteen characters in total to show all content, an advantage when reading on small screens.

So far it sounds promising, but what of the bit about comprehending what we read? Well according to Spritz tests showed that retention levels when Spritzing are at least as good as with traditional reading and that, with experience, you will retain even more than you did before. This is debatable, because when reading really fast – especially complex or difficult material – our understanding of the text suffers (like Woody Allen jokes: “He speed-read War and Peace and came away with the insight that ‘it’s about Russia.'”).

Keith Rayner, a professor of psychology at U.C. San Diego, who runs an eye-tracking laboratory, claims in The New Yorker that Spritz presents itself as the future, but ‘It won’t work on longer texts. Every time the brain needs to pause, it will be derailed.’ This becomes even more apparent when reading something we are not experts in. Something new and unfamiliar makes us stop, start, and re-read, struggling with unfamiliar words and concepts.

What do we conclude? Depending on what we want to gain from our reading experience Spritz can be a useful app. If it’s to quickly check the news online, read an article in our area of expertise or a memo at work it can make us feel more efficient. But as soon as we would like to really absorb the text we are reading and learn from it, Spritz doesn’t seem like the proper tool. Why even give in to this high-speed way of life? The existence of inventions like Spritz shows how little space time has in our society. What is the point in reading a smart book in half the time while only understanding half of its content?

Unlike speed-reading techniques, reading selectively helps us to prioritise while also allowing us time to really enjoy and understand what we are reading; it keeps a balance between work and pleasure. Reading isn’t just about quantity and speed, it’s about the experience and about how we can use information to develop ourselves and widen our minds.