You’ve probably heard by now about Spritz, offering people the possibility of “speed-reading”, which pretty much means finishing thick, fat novels like George R. R. Martin writes in no time.
Aside from the question some might be asking, which is why would you deny yourself the possibility of immersing yourself in a book for hours and days, there’s also the more important question: Is it actually possible?
The idea behind Spritz suggests that flashing just one word of an article or book at a time inside a text box will increase the speed of reading without actually giving up on comprehension of the text. Each word will be centered around its Optimal Recognition Point (ORP), the point at which most readers recognize its meaning. Users will be able to set the pace of which the words zoom by. At the moment, the app can go up to 600 words per minute, which is about double the normal reading time.
This isn’t the first time speed reading has “threatened” to change our lives. In the 1950s, a schoolteacher named Evelyn Nielsen Wood claimed she could read a lot faster than the normal 250-300 words per minute by moving her finger along the text, avoiding sub-vocalization, or saying each word mentally. She claimed to have reached the ability to read 2700 words a minute, and made a lot of money through her system.
But is speed reading any different from skimming? A 2009 study found that skimmers did not remember very many details, nor could they make inferences from the text. But they did remember the story’s most important ideas better than those who tried to read normally but didn’t finish the piece.
There’s actually a world championship for speed reading, in which contestants manage to read up to 2000 words per minute, but remember about only half of what they read. More studies show that anyone reading more than 600 words per minute cannot remember more than 75% of what they’ve just read.
Scientists claim there is simply a limit to the mind’s speed. It can’t digest so many words coming at once, and eventually your eyes might be able to scan symbols very quickly, but there won’t be anyone upstairs ready to compute them. The claims of being able to read Harry Potter books in 77 minutes or the Bible in 13 hours sound impressive, but we’re probably not going to be able to remember anything from what we’ve just read.