We Don't Need Speed Reading Apps

Mar 07 at 11am

I’m scared.

More than when e-books became a thing and the publishing industry was suddenly in jeopardy. More than when my parents bought me a Kindle for Hanukkah and I had to politely say I couldn’t accept it.

I’m scared because this week I read about an app that will enable you to read up to 600 words per minute. There’s even a fancy demo that, I hate to admit, seemed to live up to its promise. 600 words per minute!

The new technology is called Spritz. The company says: “When reading, only around 20% of your time is spent processing content. The remaining 80% is spent physically moving your eyes from word to word and scanning for the next ORP [Optimal Recognition Point]. With Spritz we help you get all that time back.”

In some ways, this is actually pretty cool. I can understand that there are plenty of scenarios in which you’d want to read something as fast as possible. What’s more, there are lots of people who have to read a lot for school/work/etc., and getting through as much as possible as fast as possible could amount to serious advantages. But there are a lot of people out there who are going to use this for other things. Like reading novels, as the headline of the article I read suggested. And that’s what’s scary.

There was once a time when reading was the predominant option for amusement; what you did when you had “free” time.

It seems this is just one more thing that suggests the direction we’re heading in, which feels more and more like a race to take away the original pleasures of basic activities and make them easier and faster. But why? Why are we speed-reading? Why should we concern ourselves that 80% of reading is spent “physically moving our eyes from word to word”? Are we really in such a rush that even reading, one of our most fundamental, basic skills, used for enjoyment as much as necessity, has to become more efficient? What will one do with that “extra” time they’ll earn back from reading more optimally? There was once a time when reading was the predominant option for amusement; what you did when you had “free” time.

I’m all for technology, sure. We can’t really live without technology at this point; it’s advancing our lives in unfathomably exciting ways. I get it. But some things just seem better the way they were. And one of those things is reading. I like to hold a book in my hands. I like to read at the pace my eyes will allow. I like to think about something while I’m reading it, and not race to get to the end. I like to read for the sake of reading.

So why are we hurrying? Why is the end goal more about how easy and efficient it was to get there than what you get out of the act itself? What happened to Sunday mornings with the newspaper? What happened to browsing in a bookstore, or curling up with a book? What happened to sending letters, not texts or emails?

If we’re just rushing through until it’s over, we’re missing all the best parts.

I know much of that still occurs. But I’m tired of looking at screens. Nearly all of our communication is done behind them. And soon, if you want, you'll not only be able to read everything on a screen, you'll be able to read everything faster than ever before. This may be appealing to some, and I can certainly see advantages. And the issue isn’t with the technology itself, but more the impetus for it. If we’re just rushing through until it’s over, we’re missing all the best parts.

What I mean to say is: Language is beautiful. In some ways, you could argue that language is everything. It's how we talk and do and feel and love and know and are. It's so easy to forget that when we're racing to the end.

So, hey – if you’ve made it this far. Thanks for reading.

Photo via Thinkstock

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