If you haven’t heard of Spritz yet, you clearly haven’t spent too much time on the Internet lately and I congratulate you. It’s a reading app that finds the Optimal Recognition Point in every word and balances the word on your screen depending on that point, in order to let you read faster. Which is great, if you want to read faster.
But reading isn’t about reading as quickly as possible. Reading shouldn’t be a chore; when was the last time you heard someone lament that she couldn’t get through her latest novel quickly enough? Just because we can do something, in other words, doesn’t mean that we should. A 2007 study found that most Americans spent about two hours a day watching television, and seven minutes reading for pleasure. Does that sound like we really need to cut that reading time in half?
After trying the app for a few minutes, I have two conclusions: first, that it works. I got up to about twice the maximum normal reading speed with no problem at all. Second, I don’t want to live in a world where it’s the primary way that reading is done.
The sensation of reading Spritzed text is akin to shotgunning a beer. It gets a large volume of beer inside of you, quickly. It rushes in, and all you taste is cold and carbonation. Take that as opposed to the experience of sipping a pint: you miss out on the flavour, the complexity, and the enjoyment of consuming it. But yes, you do get drunk quickly.
An author, writing words on a page (or an e-reader or a computer screen), has great control over the pace at which the reader will read those words. He can write infuriatingly long sentences with no punctuation that just seem to go on and on but because you’re a good reader you just keep on going and eventually you reach the end of a paragraph and realize you’ve been holding your breath for thirty seconds. He can stop. You in the middle of a sentence; or gracefully transition to the next. Spritz doesn’t allow for that; it force-feeds the words at an optimal pace for consumption and comprehension, but not for enjoyment.
I don’t need to do more things more quickly. That is not a problem I have right now – I’m not limited by the amount of words I can cram into my head. I am limited by the amount of time I take away from my devices to enjoy something slower. Sip on a pint, as it were.
Reading books, even the electronic kind, is one of the last things that I do where I am not trying to do it as quickly and efficiently as possible. That’s not a problem I want to solve.