Efficiency: Speed-reading in the Digital Age
I was understandably skeptical when I saw a friend (www.isaacstoner.com) recently post a new speedreading technology purported to "change the way you read". I can read, in fact I like to think I am pretty good at it. I spend hours practicing every day, and, at first blush, it would seem nearly impossible for me to further optimize a behavior I have perfected over decades. Turns out I was wayyy off.
The post linked to the website of a small startup called Spritz, Inc. Spritz claims to have developed a method that places the Optimal Reading Point (ORP) in a fixed place, allowing readers to keep their eyes focused on a single point while the words change at that optimal point. Sound like science fiction? It did to me too. But after firing up the demo at 250 words-per-minute (30 wpm faster than average), and then 400 wpm (60% faster than I was reading before) I was blown away. Comprehension seems to remain relatively constant despite the fact that you are reading at just under 2 times the average pace. Spritz goes on to elaborate that the Rate Limiting Step on reading is eye movement and focus, requiring as much as 80% of total reading time. With this step gone, it's INCREDIBLE how fast you can go. Spritz released their API to select developers last week.
Although impressed by this technology, I thought it begged some additional research. Turns out, rapid serial visual presentation (RSVP) technology has been around since the 1960s. Early studies used rapid presentation of pictures as the format, and initial results showed participants could recognize pictures quite quickly; however, comprehension seemed to suffer as an inverse function of speed. In other words, the faster they went, the worse their retention became.
Later studies looking at word strings have shown that up to a certain point (around 250 words per minute), comprehension does not suffer. At 650 words per minute, comprehension decreases by around 20%, though this means that you still comprehend 82% per more content than you would at normal speeds!
I am excited to see this technology mature, as I can see it on wearables and google glass, two technologies which are in need of disruptive content technologies to miniturize content. In the meantime, I look forward to reading my morning news feeds at 150% speed, leaving more time to enjoy my coffee.