My Facebook timeline was abuzz this week with many friends and contacts posting news about a revolutionary new technology which promises to speed up reading. According to Spritz, this is why their technology works:
Reading is inherently time consuming because your eyes have to move from word to word and line to line. Traditional reading also consumes huge amounts of physical space on a page or screen, which limits reading effectiveness on small displays. Scrolling, pinching, and resizing a reading area doesn’t fix the problem and only frustrates people. Now, with compact text streaming from Spritz, content can be streamed one word at a time, without forcing your eyes to spend time moving around the page. Spritz makes streaming your content easy and more comfortable, especially on small displays. Our “Redicle” technology enhances readability even more by using horizontal lines and hash marks to direct your eyes to the red letter in each word, so you can focus on the content that interests you. Best of all, Spritz’s patent-pending technology can integrate into photos, maps, videos, and websites to promote more effective communication.
While this innovation is of course interesting, my Hummm-ometer immediately started Hmm-ing, registering a 3 on its scale of 1 to 5. I really wanted to see research that addressed how fast people can develop a deep appreciation of the meaning of a ‘text’ rather than just speeding through. Reading is not just about taking in individual words, and the meaning of a sentence is not the sum of the parts, i.e. individual words. The meaning of a sentence comes to presence through the words, but is more than the words. So while this may work for simple stories, for texts which you have to work hard on studying, it may not work.
Hans-George Gadamer probably wrote the the best analysis of this in Truth and Method, where he addresses the issue of hermeneutics and the notion of ‘historical consciousness’ which I would extend to cross-cultural consciousness too. It is interesting for me since I have written a x part series on Truth and Method, and it never ceases to amaze me that this series is one of the most popular set of articles on my blog.
But back to Spritz. It seems that I was not alone in wondering about the quality of comprehension of a philosophical text, as opposed to say a short email or text message. According to Keith Rayner, University of California San Diego Professor of Psychology:
The main finding was this. If you have people reading in this RSVP method, they can read sentences one at a time. If you give them longer passages, comprehension goes to pieces.
I have a degree in cognitive psychology, and really, I think the most amazing thing I learn’t was how little we truly know about the brain, main, experience and consciousness. Gadamer is taking a phenomenological approach to the experience of language, and while most psychologists would reject a work such as his as being ‘unscientific’, for me we can still gain deep insights into the nature of the problem. It is the way in which Gadamer is framing the questions which is so important, questions which Spritz fail to address, maybe because they do not ben know that the issue of ‘historical consciousness’.
So yeah, if you need to speed up your emails and text messages, maybe Spritz is the answer. But if you are searching for the meaning of a text, a text you may be taking years to study, rather than just rush through, maybe we will need to slow down, in order that the layers open up, fan out, and interweave their magic, leaving us staggered in their profound beauty. I am not too sure I’ll get that at 600 words per minute.