Posted on March 26, 2014 in Archive

Need for Speed: how Spritz is taking on speed reading

26Mar

It seems we, as a technology-loving, iPhone-consuming society, are constantly concerned with pushing ourselves in the quest of maximising knowledge and minimising intake time. The latest good citizens to further the cause are the folks from Spritz – who (and I’m sure this isn’t coincidental) are turning reading into a sprint.

How does Spritz work? From the videos available on the app, it looks like it definitely takes some getting used to. The technology is created by developers from Boston. It uses a new reading technique that advocates the format of flashing each word of a sentence individually in quick succession. As in, really quick – some people can go from reading 250 words per minute (wpm) to 600 wpm. That puts some readers in the realm of reading entire books in a few hours, which is pretty incredible.

Spritz maximises your reading time by helping the human eye to find the ‘Optical Recognition Point’, which apparently the brain must find in order for it to process and contextualise before moving onto the next word. This is highlighted in red for the reader. Your eyes don’t have to move to find the OPR either, as there is a notch on the screen where the red letter appears, so no matter where in the word occurs, you see it immediately. Apparently a lot of reading time has been wasted looking for that elusive red letter. This is no longer an issue though, thanks to Spritz.

I can see some massive benefits for this, since it’s already being put into practical use. Students who want to get full value for their enormous textbooks could probably read them cover-to-cover in less than two days, using Spritz. Writing assignments has never been easier when you can read a chapter in 10 minutes! Additionally, the Spritz technology has been pre-installed onto new Samsung Galaxy s5 smartphones and the Gear 2 smartwatch, so that users can read their emails and news updates at lightning speed. The hyperlinked article above also claims that initial studies show that users of Spritz who have ADD or dyslexia respond well to it.

Liquid State - Spritz Speed Reading

A sentence demonstrating Spritz’s speed and sometimes dizzying power. Source: CNN.com

Looking at the benefits, however, also works to more clearly see some possible downfalls. This kind of technology gives absolutely no kinds of allowances for any kind of distractions – look away for a moment, and you’ve probably missed a paragraph. Look up to say hi to a friend, and poof! There goes the third chapter of your ebook. I’d be interested to see if they have any features that can combat this potential problem. The most obvious thought would be that they have something similar to a ‘play/pause’ button – but if I was a developer, I would be nervous that most people would think they are watching a book, rather than reading it. It rather reminds me of this blog I wrote a few months ago, about the introduction of timestamps on book covers. Or perhaps they are utilising that new technology that can tell when you are looking at the screen (reminiscent of Samsung phone software) – but that does require your device to have a front-facing camera, which might not be standard for everyone yet.

And you aren’t really actively reading, in the traditional sense of the word. In terms of eye movement, it’s more like watching television than reading a book, because the picture is constantly moving and your eyes don’t have to as much. I’d also like to ponder over a reader’s retention of content of a book read through Spritz. As a little test, I watched the above graphic several times in a row. Despite focusing on the OPR and doing my darnedest to take every word in and memorise it – if you put your hand over the picture and asked me to repeat it back to you, I could probably only remember about half of the sentence. Is there really any point in having speed reading if you aren’t able to retain or process any of it beyond our optical nerves? That’s a waste of time.

It also takes some of the lazy pleasure out of reading that was present in such a pastime just a few years ago. Pausing to think about a chapter (or even a line) in a fictional story will be tricky with technology that shows a new word every second. The American Genius makes a good point in their article about Spritz – reading an ebook Spritz style doesn’t really allow you to experience the work that the author has put into the work, which includes sentence rhythm, length and funky punctuation. And that’s part of what you pay for when you purchase a book, isn’t it? It’s like making reading for pleasure a chore, something to be rushed through so you can get back to TV. Not cool.

So use Spritz sparingly – it’s great for business, or for reading you have to, not necessarily want, to do. But please, leave it out of reading for pleasure. There is a decided lack of a ‘fast-forward’ button on your book for a reason.