Friday, March 14, 2014

Speed-reading App is a Fraud?

Like so many things that go viral online, the truth is far more complex than the buzz itself. In the spotlight today is the Spritz speed reading app, which I recently came across in this post.

The story made sense: that eye motion was wasted effort, and we could consume more content if we maximized our intake efficiency. Stationary focus, plus some visual queues to improve word recognition.

But even while reading the article, it felt off. Many years ago (20 now, in fact) I did my undergrad in Psych & Linguistics. I couldn't recall anything specific as to why I was feeling skeptical about the upper limits of speed reading, but I figured it was somewhere in that past.

Thankfully, today I came across this piece by NBC news reporter Devin Coldewey. (And I now see there are other similar pieces being written.)  The truth, is that this method of reading isn't new; and historically, it doesn't have a great track record.

The method is called "rapid serial visual presentation," or RSVP, and has been around for more than 40 years. The problem is that with longer pieces of writing, this method of intake shows very poor comprehension by readers. Essentially, we can't jack up our rate of word identification, and still maintain the same level of understanding.

I have no doubt that reading efficiency can be improved. As an example, the article linked above also points to the power of skimming as a speed reading technique. But the idea of reading at 500 or 1000 words a minute? Consuming and understanding every single word over a sustained period, such as with reading a novel?

I'm not buying it. Neither, it seems, are the experts.


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