No time for texts? Get this reading superpower app

  • Living
  • Sunday, 23 Mar 2014

A new app will help you finish 5,000 pages of the Games Of Thrones book series in just days. Knowing what you just read, however, is a different matter.

Our lives are getting busier and busier, with most of us sorely pushed for time. We get up in the morning and it’s go, go, go. Our family has expectations, our boss has expectations, and there’s that monster commute to and from work. We’ve got to think about our health and squeeze in some exercise. Let's not forget about finding some time to spend with friends. It’s not surprising that we're struggling with the task of keeping up with the news, latest opinions and current trends – not to mention finding time to read a novel.

But there’s good news: A new text streaming app called Spritz can help us browse the contents of our smartphones at two to four times faster than our normal reading speed. This means that an average reader could finish this article in under three minutes. And if you’re super quick, it'll take you less than a minute, leaving us with time to update your Facebook, post an Instagram photo, and Tweet what you’re having for breakfast.

Spritz streams content one word at a time, so our eyes don’t waste time moving around a screen. The slowest Spritz speed, though faster than my current reading rate, is easy to keep up with. The faster speeds, however, are decidedly unnerving. I felt as if I were in a Formula 1 car, driving with the accelerator flat down, while trying to read every signpost I drove past. Indeed, I was so focused on reading every word that I forgot what the sentences meant. It could have read “anyone who attempts to read this at a speed of one thousand words per minute will suffer severe brain damage” for all I know.

Still, at the appropriate speed, this app is great for news reports and long pieces of text that you need to read for an overview of a process or theory or event. For example, if you want an insight into black holes in space, without spending hours pouring over pages of text, Spritz is the tool for you. But if you’ve got a lunch date with Stephen Hawking, your newly attained knowledge might be full of black holes itself, which will occur if you’re unable to quickly digest new concepts.

But even at its slowest speed, this app can’t be applied successfully to all text. I wouldn’t use it on an IKEA manual. An average instruction manual could be read in less than a minute, but I doubt I would retain the information I needed to assemble a kitchen table. "Take the A leg and insert it into the K bracket, then insert bolt X through the F hole, and turn 10 times anti-clockwise using the tool supplied." Even reading this at normal speed, with diagrams to assist, it would be impossible to remember everything. I would have to re-read that text three times before getting that leg on.

According to Spritz, we could read a 1,000-page novel in 10 hours. This means that a weighty tome like War And Peace, a 1,400-page novel by Leo Tolstoy that I've failed to finish four times, could be done in a day. But I wonder how much we would retain. I suspect many nuances in the novel would be lost. For example, take these sentences from The Stranger by Albert Camus: “Mother died today. Or maybe, yesterday; I can’t be sure.” When I first read that, I thought, "Oh, what have we here? This sounds as if it’s going to be interesting." I don’t want sentences like that to be rushed. I want to savour them, and speed reading won’t let me to do that.

And what about emotional passages? Surely there has to be a build-up, if you're to connect with a character’s pain, joy, anger, or whatever they're experiencing. I’m sure Spritz will be a handy app, but if you speed read too much, you might end up like Woody Allen who once said, “I took a speed-reading course and read War And Peace in 20 minutes. It involves Russia.”

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