A new app called Spritz that claims to offer a way to speed-read entire novels at a massively faster pace than normal, but without the kind of loss in comprehension that usually comes from skimming. It works by laying text out word-by-word, aligned in such a way that you don’t have to move your eyes when you read.
Here's what happens at 250 words per minute, which is at the top end of average for most people when it comes to reading speed:
And here's 500wpm:
Clearly, it works. According to its creators, Spritz has been in development for almost three years, and it based on “research” that states 80 per cent of the time a person spends reading is taken up by the eyes moving and focusing on each new word. Cut that out, and you attain a huge boost in reading speed.
The red letter in each word reflects what Spritz calls the optimal recognition point (ORP) – that's the bit of the word where the eye needs to focus to be able to grasp the overall shape and meaning of the word around it:
Spritzing presents reading content with the ORP located at the specific place where you’re already looking, allowing you to read without having to move your eyes. With this approach, reading becomes more efficient because Spritzing increases the time your brain spends processing content without having to waste time searching for the next word’s ORP. Spritzing also enhances reading on small screens. Because the human eye can focus on about 13 characters at a time, Spritzing requires only 13 characters’ worth of space inside our redicle. No other reading method is designed to help you read all of your content when you’re away from a large screen.”
The key selling point for Spritz is actually not in speed, but in comprehension. Speed reading techniques, historically, were developed without the use of technology – they're for reading paper books, after all – and relied upon learning how to take in whole sentences, then whole paragraphs, and then, for the very best, whole pages. It's a case of pattern recognition, and can lead to incredibly rapid reading paces even if there is also, inevitably, a loss of comprehension. Studies have found that scoring greater then 50 per cent on a speed reading comprehension test is exceptional, not the norm.
Spritz, instead, relies on some visual stimuli research from the 1970s, on what's known as rapid serial visual presentation (RSVP). It was developed as part of a study into how well participants could identify targets among a group of objects, flashed quickly on a screen; over time, further research revealed that RSVP made a good basis for a speed reading technique, with as much as a 33 per cent improvement in reading speed without any effect on comprehension. Spritz's novelty is the ORP, and aligning all words along that line to make all eye movement redundant. That's how they can claim that people can, unlike with those other speed reading techniques, reach as fast as 1000wpm with barely any training.
So let’s say you’re really into what Spritz is selling, and want to start getting through War & Peace in less time than it takes to watch a full season of Breaking Bad. The practical limitations of reading text one word at a time should be obvious: shorter words are going to be easier to understand than longer ones, and Tolstoy’s epic is going to be more taxing to grasp word-by-word than, say, Harry Potter. Anything with weird formatting, footnotes or sentences that can last longer than the length of a page – here's looking at you, Infinite Jest – are going to be made incomprehensible with Spritz. There's a button to go back to the start of either the paragraph or sentence that the reader is on, but for texts that require multiple passes to fully grasp (like, say, a scientific study) Spritz is going to be a hindrance, not a help.
That said, most people don't read those kinds of texts. Authors might be tempted to bemoan a change to the way that readers take in text, but for many people the ability to crunch down an email from a colleague, or their Twitter feed, in bursts like this will actually be pretty useful. The main usage that Spritz is touting is on devices, like smartwatches, that will be showing text designed for larger screens. Grokking a news story on a two-inch screen does seem like an obvious application for a speed reader app like Spritz, so it's going to be interesting to see if developers try to integrate it into their devices (or, less likely, web developers go to the effort of making their pages “Spritz-ready” or somesuch similar standard).