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Spritz Speed-Reading App short on Fizz March 7, 2014

There's nothing new about the "new" Web app, Spritz, that promises vast increases in reading speed. The idea of replacing scrolling text with single words flashing at you, called "rapid serial visual presentation" or RSVP, was mooted more than 40 years ago with little success. Indeed, back in the mid-1990's we had something similar, called Cornix, a machine-assisted reading software (MARS) Java applet and in 1999 Clifford High patented this same RSVP concept, which he called Vortex xStream.

Spritz is just another gimmicky toy that will make money for the developer simply because there will always be some idiots (1.6 million on the first Spritz day) who are looking for a cheap and easy way to improve a reading skill that they were too lazy to learn back in grade-school. At best, the Spritz-er will SEE the flashing words at a faster rate than before. But at a price - comprehension, retention and recall.

Speed-Reading is not simply about reducing the fixation time (the amount of time spent focusing on a word) or reducing the time spent on saccades (moving the eyes from one word to the next). It's about seeing groups of words with each fixation. Seeing the meaning of words in the context of other words and seeing ideas, concepts, images and mental pictures as wholes rather than individual fragments. Reading one word at a time, regardless of how fast you can see those individual words, is pretty much like looking at the world through a straw.

And while the idea of replacing eye-movement saccades from one word to the next, with an "Optimal Recognition Point", the ORP, and then flashing words at that ORP might sound impressive, there were plenty of fighter-pilots who became mesmerized by staring at a fixed point in space, and motorists who succumbed to staring at those hypnotic white lane-markers.

The simple truth of the matter is that reading is a physical skill. The more you use it, the better it will become. And the best tool for increasing reading speed AND comprehension is an older form of digital technology -- the digit. Try sliding your finger across the page, under the line of text, while reading the words. And then gradually increase the finger-rate. This will increase your reading speed, eliminate regressions, open your fixation span, increase concentration and increase comprehension.

Admittedly using your finger to improve your reading skill is not nearly as impressive as using an App. After all, don't we view finger-readers as being intellectually challenged and App users as being super smart? But hey, who cares? It's all about the sizzle and to heck with the steak!

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