The Need for a Speed Read

A soon-to-be released app uses text streaming to make reading quick and painless. Watch out Netflix, a new time suck is on its way.

Bertrand Demee/Getty

What if you could read a thousand-page book in a matter of hours?

Gravity’s Rainbow on the train to work. Infinite Jest during an afternoon on the hammock. Crime and Punishment over a lunch break or two. With the technologically facilitated speed-reading offered by a new app, called Spritz, soon to be released for the Samsung Galaxy S5 and the Gear 2 Watch, it just might be possible.

The app works by maximizing the efficiency of the movements of the human eye, called saccades, that are required to read text in a traditional format. As explained on Spritz’s website, while reading, the eye searches for the middle of a word before the word can be comprehended. This particular area, located slightly to the left of the mid-point of the word, is called the “Optimal Recognition Point” (ORP). By lining up the words of a text based on their ORP and flashing them rapidly in succession around the same middle point, highlighted in red, the reader never has to expend time by moving his eye, and is able to process what he is reading much more quickly.

Spritz claims that, while reading traditionally, the brain spends only about 20% of the time processing and comprehending the meaning of the words, while the other 80% is dedicated merely to acquisition. Using this method, Spritz users can achieve speeds of a thousand words-per-minute with relative ease, compared to the average natural speed of between 200-400 WPM.

The demonstrations provided on their website show just how easy it is to pick up. With no preparation or learning curve at all, I was almost immediately blazing away at 600wpm, with full retention, and wishing I could test myself at faster speeds (there is currently no faster demonstration available).

Compare Spritz’s method to other speed-reading techniques—such as sub-vocalization—in which the reader hums or speaks to himself in order to train the brain not to internally recite the word before understanding it. This method, and others like it, require a great deal of practice and focus, whereas Spritz seems to have developed a method that requires almost no effort at all.

But Spritz is more than just a speed-reading app; since the presentation only requires the space to display one word at a time, it’s prefect for reading on small screens, such as those used in the wearable devices (“watch phones”) that are currently on the cusp of popularity. The website explains: “From the fonts that we use to the algorithms that process content, Spritz is designed from the ground up to empower effective reading on a small display area.”

Assisted-reading technology such as this will certainly be a great new topic of debate between the camps that love to declare themselves on any issue even remotely literary; just see how staunchly “paper-book people” (and I’m one of them) hold out against the tide of convenient e-readers, clinging to our silly notions of aesthetics.

This, however, seems like a slightly different case. Think of your most cherished reading experiences over the course of your life: the summer in you spent lugging around Stephen King’s The Stand, the vacation that you devoured a book of Lorrie Moore short stories. Isn’t the fact that the book was in your life for a significant period of time part of why it felt so special? Would you want to condense all of that into a few hours?

Surely, if reading solely to acquire information or subjects to discuss at cocktail parties, new apps such as these will be a great convenience. But for those of us who cleave to backwards ideas about how certain books, fiction especially, deserve a slower air of contemplation, it might take some more convincing.