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How to read digitally – at 600 words a minute

By James Bridle, The Guardian
Sunday, March 23, 2014 11:24 EDT
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You don’t even have to move your eyes with the latest speed-reading apps

In 2005, a company called ICUE addressed the imminent problem of reading books from tiny screens by proposing a slew of new reading techniques. Their system allowed you to read hundreds of books in a variety of new ways, including a format wherein each word of the text flashed up on the screen in turn, at high speed. This was a time when you had to order ebooks by text message, and ICUE, far ahead of its time, disappeared when this “problem” was effectively solved by making phones with bigger screens.

But screens are shrinking once again, turning into smartwatches and the hovering prism of Google Glass. Step forward Spritz, a recently announced app by a team of developers in Boston. The approach is the same – flash words at the reader as quickly as possible – but the pitch has been updated. The key terms now are optimal recognition point, the moment in a word when the brain starts to process the meaning of the word, and saccades, the tiny, unconscious movements the eye makes as it runs along a line of text. Remove these and you can raise your reading speed from an average of about 250 words a minute to something ridiculous like 600.

Spritz claims to be “reimagining reading”, and when you start looking there is a host of apps that promise the same. Velocity integrates with other iOS apps such as Instapaper and Pocket, while Quickreader includes access to ebook stores such as Smashwords and Feedbooks, with millions of titles available, should you wish to power through Don Quixote in a few commutes. Like so many technological fixes, Spritz and the like seem to be answering a question nobody asked. And if you do ask, you’ll find that speed-reading experts say you can do better by running your finger along the page – but nobody wants to be seen doing that.

guardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media 2014

 
 
 
 
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