Spritz, the speed reading app. (Image: Screenshot)
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The smartphone app that claims to make reading 1,000 words per minute a doddle

How fast can you read? Not as fast as you could, according to Spritz.

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).

Ian Steadman is a staff science and technology writer at the New Statesman. He is on Twitter as @iansteadman.

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Meet Anne Marie Waters - the Ukip politician too extreme for Nigel Farage

In January 2016, Waters launched Pegida UK with former EDL frontman Steven Yaxley-Lennon (aka Tommy Robinson). 

There are few people in British political life who can be attacked from the left by Nigel Farage. Yet that is where Anne Marie Waters has found herself. And by the end of September she could well be the new leader of Ukip, a party almost synonymous with its beer-swilling, chain-smoking former leader.

Waters’s political journey is a curious one. She started out on the political left, but like Oswald Mosley before her, has since veered dramatically to the right. That, however, is where the similarities end. Waters is Irish, agnostic, a lesbian and a self-proclaimed feminist.

But it is her politics – rather than who she is – that have caused a stir among Ukip’s old guard. Former leader Paul Nuttall has said that her views make him “uncomfortable” while Farage has claimed Ukip is “finished” if, under her leadership, it becomes an anti-Islam party.

In her rhetoric, Waters echoes groups such as the English Defence League (EDL) and Britain First. She has called Islam “evil” and her leadership manifesto claims that the religion has turned Britain into a “fearful and censorious society”. Waters wants the banning of the burqa, the closure of all sharia councils and a temporary freeze on all immigration.

She started life in Dublin before moving to Germany in her teens to work as an au pair. Waters also lived in the Netherlands before returning to Britain to study journalism at Nottingham Trent University, graduating in 2003. She subsequently gained a second degree in law. It was then, she says, that she first learnt about Islam, which she claims treats women “like absolute dirt”. Now 39, Waters is a full-time campaigner who lives in Essex with her two dogs and her partner who is an accountant.

Waters’s first spell of serious activism was with the campaign group One Law for All, a secularist organisation fronted by the Iranian feminist and human rights activist Maryam Namazie. Waters resigned in November 2013 after four years with the organisation. According to Namazie, Waters left due to political disagreements over whether the group should collaborate with members of far-right groups.

In April 2014, Waters founded Sharia Watch UK and, in January 2016, she launched Pegida UK with former EDL frontman Steven Yaxley-Lennon (aka Tommy Robinson). The group was established as a British chapter of the German-based organisation and was set up to counter what it called the “Islamisation of our countries”. By the summer of 2016, it had petered out.

Waters twice stood unsuccessfully to become a Labour parliamentary candidate. Today, she says she could not back Labour due to its “betrayal of women” and “betrayal of the country” over Islam. After joining Ukip in 2014, she first ran for political office in the Lambeth council election, where she finished in ninth place. At the 2015 general election, Waters stood as the party’s candidate in Lewisham East, finishing third with 9.1 per cent of the vote. She was chosen to stand again in the 2016 London Assembly elections but was deselected after her role in Pegida UK became public. Waters was also prevented from standing in Lewisham East at the 2017 general election after Ukip’s then-leader Nuttall publicly intervened.

The current favourite of the 11 candidates standing to succeed Nuttall is deputy leader Peter Whittle, with Waters in second. Some had hoped the party’s top brass would ban her from standing but last week its national executive approved her campaign.

Due to an expected low turnout, the leadership contest is unpredictable. Last November, Nuttall was elected with just 9,622 votes. More than 1,000 new members reportedly joined Ukip in a two-week period earlier this year, prompting fears of far-right entryism.

Mike Hookem MEP has resigned as Ukip’s deputy whip over Waters’ candidacy, saying he would not “turn a blind eye” to extremism. By contrast, chief whip, MEP Stuart Agnew, is a supporter and has likened her to Joan of Arc. Waters is also working closely on her campaign with Jack Buckby, a former BNP activist and one of the few candidates to run against Labour in the by-election for Jo Cox’s former seat of Batley and Spen. Robinson is another backer.

Peculiarly for someone running to be the leader of a party, Waters does not appear to relish public attention. “I’m not a limelight person,” she recently told the Times. “I don’t like being phoned all the time.”

The journalist Jamie Bartlett, who was invited to the initial launch of Pegida UK in Luton in 2015, said of Waters: “She failed to remember the date of the demo. Her head lolled, her words were slurred, and she appeared to almost fall asleep while Tommy [Robinson] was speaking. After 10 minutes it all ground to an uneasy halt.”

In an age when authenticity is everything, it would be a mistake to underestimate yet another unconventional politician. But perhaps British Muslims shouldn’t panic about Anne Marie Waters just yet.

James Bloodworth is editor of Left Foot Forward

This article first appeared in the 17 August 2017 issue of the New Statesman, Trump goes nuclear