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Reading, Fast and Slow – Article by Bradley Doucet

Reading, Fast and Slow – Article by Bradley Doucet

The New Renaissance Hat
Bradley Doucet
January 13, 2015
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When a book has a lot to offer—meaty ideas, well-crafted language, a plot that sings, characters that move me—I want to take my time with it. I want to savour it and make it last. On the other hand, there are some books that I want to have read, but that I’m not really looking forward to reading. Also, there are just a lot of books out there, and only so many hours to devote to reading in a given day, year, or lifetime. What if I could savour the best and speed through the rest?

Thanks to a Boston-based start-up named Spritz, I should soon be able to do just that. The company has developed a text-streaming technology that apparently allows readers to increase their reading speeds dramatically without loss of comprehension or retention, and with no special training required. Normal reading is like walking, in that you do it at your own pace. In contrast, “spritzing” is like being on a treadmill, with words coming at you one at a time at a pre-determined (but adjustable) rate. It also takes advantage of what the company calls the “Optimal Recognition Point” in each word. That may sound a bit hokey, but a quick trip around the Spritz website, where you can test out the tech for yourself, should dispel your doubts.

One possible use is quickly finishing a book that started out promising but is proving somewhat disappointing. I hate to abandon a book, and I’ll only do so if it feels like a complete waste of time. But I would have been happy, for instance, to step on the gas about halfway through The Luminaries, which won both the Governor General’s Award and the Man Booker Prize last year. What began as an intriguing tale of murder and mystery set during the 1860s New Zealand gold rush, packed with lots of well-defined characters, was not ultimately very fulfilling, in my opinion. Satisfying endings are not terribly common, but in this case, I found myself caring less and less about the characters as the story dragged on. With a really good novel, the opposite happens.

If this technology pans out, I’ll have more time to spend with higher quality books, which is reason enough to be excited. But as the cost of reading (in terms of time) falls, simple economics suggests that most people will probably read more, which frankly would be great. Just think: A wiser, more knowledgeable, more empathetic world may be right around the corner.

Bradley Doucet is Le Québécois Libre‘s English Editor and the author of the blog Spark This: Musings on Reason, Liberty, and Joy. A writer living in Montreal, he has studied philosophy and economics, and is currently completing a novel on the pursuit of happiness.