Twice in the last week, really smart people have mentioned to me that they feel limited by how fast they are able to read, and that they are doing something about it. It made me wonder whether they are on to something we should all be thinking about.
Avi Tuschman is a political anthropologist and holds a doctorate from Stanford. He speaks seven languages and has written a widely regarded book called, “Our Political Nature.” Suffice to say, he thinks about language and words and learning a lot.
Avi mentioned to me that he has “given up” and turned to an application called Spritz. Perhaps you have heard of it. The idea is this: Traditionally, when you read a line of text, your eye skitters along from left to right, settling ever so briefly on each word in order to determine its meaning before moving on. (You may be able to pick up groups of words, but the idea is the same. Start and stop, start and stop.) Spritz says when we do this we are looking for the “optimal recognition point” – some place in the heart of the word that allows us to nearly instantaneously determine its meaning.
The trouble is all that eye movement, according to Spritz.
If you are like me, you probably read about 300 words a minute, give or take. Spritz claims it can improve that markedly by moving the words for you and highlighting the OPR in red. It’s difficult to explain but easy to understand once you try it yourself. And you can test yourself for free here.
The struggle to read faster is probably as old as the printed word. When I was a kid, my dad taught Evelyn Wood Speed Reading. He was essentially a salesman trying to lure readers into hotel suites where he would sell the package. It worked, but it took practice and I wasn’t a practicer.
I think it’s possible something like Spritz could revolutionize the way we read on our mobile devices and that could be huge for producers of content. Most of us have called up a long story on our smartphone, tapped it, pinched the type to make it bigger, scrolled… and never made it to the bottom. What if you didn’t have to do any of that to read a 1,000-word New York Times story and were finished with it in three minutes?
The world of the word is changing.