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OPLIN 4cast #377: Reading speed

Posted in 4cast

Spritz appSeveral months ago, the 4cast looked at the possibility that shorter lines of text delivered on digital devices could be easier to read, especially for those who have problems reading paper-printed text. Earlier this month, a startup called Spritz got a lot of media attention for pushing this concept to the limit, marketing a technology that presents readers with one word at a time up to 1,000 words per minute. As it happens, this idea — known as rapid serial visual presentation (RSVP) — is not new and has been available for some time to users of mobile devices through a number of speed-reading apps, but Spritz’ media blitz unleashed a host of interesting articles about reading in general.

  • Speed-reader startup Spritz closing $3.5M seed (TechCrunch/Natasha Lomas)  “$1 million of the seed was raised earlier, when the company was known as Spritz Technology LLC (it’s now Spritz Technology Inc), but the rest of the round — $2.54 million — is committed and due to be closed within a couple of weeks, TechCrunch has learned. Spritz’s patent-pending technology streams text at readers, one speedy word at a time, to cut down the time the reader’s eye has to spend moving from word to word — letting them consume text more quickly (or that’s the theory). To aid the reading process, Spritz aligns words using what it refers to as an ‘optimal recognition point method’ which presents the portion of the word that apparently allows the reader to most quickly recognize it, so the next word can be speedily pushed out.”
  • Am I reading this right? (Henderson Blog/John M. Henderson)  “So Spritz sounds great, and even somewhat scientific. But can you really read a novel in 90 minutes with full comprehension? Well, like most things that seem too good to be true, the answer unfortunately is no. The research in the 1970s showed convincingly that although people can read using RSVP at normal reading rates, comprehension and memory for text falls as RSVP speeds increase, and the problem gets worse for paragraphs compared to single sentences. One of the biggest problems is that there just isn’t enough time to put the meaning together and store it in memory (what psychologists call ‘consolidation’).”
  • New speed-reading apps are devilish devices (Bloomberg View/Leonid Bershidsky)  “A college-level reader can process written data in five ‘gears,’ Ronald Carver, the University of Missouri professor and reading science enthusiast, wrote back in 1992. These are memorizing, learning, ‘rauding,’ skimming and scanning. The lowest gear, meant for the best retention of facts, names, dates and specific turns of phrase, runs at less than 150 words a minute. The highest, used to find a target word within a long text, allows one to process 600 words per minute. ‘Rauding,’ at 300 words per minute, is our ‘cruising’ speed. The term is an amalgam of ‘reading’ and ‘auditing.’ It is roughly equivalent to our listening comprehension speed.”
  • Don’t mock speed-reading apps. They are life-changing. (Slate Future Tense/Jim Pagels)  “While I’m an unabashed fan of this technology, RSVP has its detractors, who claim that these kinds of applications increase reading speeds at the expense of comprehension. They argue that users are unable to scan around the entire page or take moments to dwell on particular passages that might merit deeper contemplation. But an RSVP user can simply hit pause or even go back to the original tab if he needs a moment to think or wants to give something a second glance, both of which I do quite frequently. During my RSVP experience, I haven’t noticed any decline in comprehension; if anything, I’m more focused on the material, because I know I can’t allow my mind to wander or I’ll lose my place, similar to how a runner on a treadmill can’t just stop whenever they get tired.”

Blink fact:
If you’re ready for some hard science, this article from the Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience explains the “attentional blink,” “…a deficit in conscious perception of the second of two targets [words] if it follows the first within 200–500 msec.”