Static blocks of text like the one you’re looking at now are an antiquated and inefficient way to get words into your head. That’s the contention of Boston-based startup Spritz, which has developed a speed-reading text box that shows no more than 13 characters at a time. The Spritz box flashes words at you in quick succession so you don’t have to move your eyes around a page, and in my very quick testing it allowed me to read at more than double my usual reading pace. Spritz has teamed up with Samsung to integrate its speed reading functionality with the upcoming Galaxy S5 smartphone.
The written word, after 8,000 or so years, is still an extremely effective way to get a message from one mind into the minds of others. But even with the advent of the digital age and decades of usability work, font and layout development, we’re still nowhere near optimal efficiency with it yet.
Take this article – I’ve written it in easily digestible chunks, and we’ve presented it in nice, thin, 10 to 14 word columns that should make it easy to scan. But pay attention to what your eyes are doing while you try to read it. Chances are, even if you’re a quick reader, your eyes are jumping around all over the place.
In fact, according to Boston-based startup Spritz, you spend as little as 20 percent of your reading time actually taking in the words you’re looking at, and as much as 80 percent physically moving your eyes around to find the right spot to read each word from. So, the Spritz team decided, why not eliminate that time altogether?
The Spritz reader is a simple, small box that streams text at the reader, one word at a time. The words are presented in a large, very reader-friendly font, and centered around the "optimal recognition point" of each word. In fact, the box will only display a maximum of 13 characters, so larger words are broken up.
What’s really interesting is just how quickly this system can pipe information into your brain. I did a couple of online reading speed tests and found my average reading speed for regular blocks of text is around 330-350 words per minute. But I can comfortably follow a Spritz box at up to 500 words per minute without missing much, losing concentration or feeling any kind of eye strain. In short stints I can follow 800 words per minute, and the team says it’s easy to train yourself to go faster and retain more.
Try it yourself. Here’s 250 words per minute:
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Spritz claims that information retention rates on "spritzed" content are equal to or higher than that of traditional text block reading, and that some of its testers are now comfortably ingesting content at 1000 words per minute with no loss of information retention. That’s Tolstoy’s 1,440 page behemoth War and Peace dispatched in a single 10 hour sitting, if you had the concentration for it, or Stieg Larsson's Girl with a Dragon Tattoo in two and a bit hours.
Spritz is also clearly developed to excel on mobile and handheld reading devices, and as such, the company has announced that Spritz will make its mobile debut on the upcoming Samsung Galaxy S5 release. Smartwatch and Google glass-type implementations are also on the radar.
The mobile angle will have to be strong as there are numerous free tools for desktop browsers that can replicate a similar reading experience for free. If you’re using a Chrome browser, check out Spreed as an example.
Perhaps the most significant move for Spritz will be bringing this speed reading technology to bear on your Android e-book library. Anything that can help me get through my reading backlog quicker will be most welcome!
Therein lies one of the biggest problems with traditional RSVP. Each time you see text that is not centered properly on the ORP position, your eyes naturally will look for the ORP to process the word and understand its meaning. This requisite eye movement creates a “saccade”, a physical eye movement caused by your eyes taking a split second to find the proper ORP for a word. Every saccade has a penalty in both time and comprehension, especially when you start to speed up reading. Some saccades are considered by your brain to be “normal” during reading, such as when you move your eye from left to right to go from one ORP position to the next ORP position while reading a book. Other saccades are not normal to your brain during reading, such as when you move your eyes right to left to spot an ORP. This eye movement is akin to trying to read a line of text backwards. In normal reading, you normally won’t saccade right-to-left unless you encounter a word that your brain doesn’t already know and you go back for another look; those saccades will increase based on the difficulty of the text being read and the percentage of words within it that you already know.
And the math doesn’t look good, either. If you determined the length of all the words in a given paragraph, you would see that, depending on the language you’re reading, there is a low (less than 15%) probability of two adjacent words being the same length and not requiring a saccade when they are shown to you one at a time. This means you move your eyes on a regular basis with traditional RSVP! In fact, you still move them with almost every word. In general, left-to-right saccades contribute to slower reading due to the increased travel time for the eyeballs, while right-to-left saccades are discombobulating for many people, especially at speed. It’s like reading a lot of text that contains words you don’t understand only you DO understand the words! The experience is frustrating to say the least.