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Spritz: Making Reading Efficient . . . Or Lifeless?

In 1439 Johannes Gutenberg introduced the printing press and movable type to the west.[1]  Even though bound books existed for centuries before the advent of the printing press, these type of books were mostly reserved for the rich and/or organized religion.  The price of printing was greatly reduced making knowledge and information realistically accessible to everyone for the first time in history.  This movement spurred the Renaissance and helped Europe eventually crawl out of the Middle Ages (a.k.a. the Dark Ages) following the decline and eventual fall of the Roman Empire.

Western Europe Book Production by Century

Books have existed in only one form since the rise of the printing press:  a bound set of linear text meant to be read left to right (or right to left, or up to down), and has not changed for over 500 years.  Even with the recent movement toward digital books this same form of reading has been perpetuated by using a format that mimics a linear matrix of virtual words printed on virtual paper.  Just fire up your favorite dedicated e-reader or tablet and it does a fine job of mimicking a centuries old format.  But has the format become obsolete and inefficient?

The reading speed of humans varies with a distribution as with all things in nature.  According to a test conducted by Staples [3] the average person reads approximate 300 words per minute (wpm), but the distribution appears to vary wildly with correlations to age and education level, naturally.  The test accounts for both speed and comprehension.  Feel free to take the test yourself in the footnotes link below.

Average Reading Speeds
3rd grade students – 150 wpm
4th grade students – 170 wpm
High school dropouts – 240 wpm
8th grade students – 250 wpm
Average Adults – 300 wpm
Low scoring college students – 340 wpm
Mid level executives – 340 wpm
11th grade students – 350 wpm
Average college students – 450 wpm
High level executives – 575 wpm
College professors – 680 wpm
High scoring college students – 800 wpm
Speed readers – 1,500 wpm
World speed reading champion – 4,700 wpm!!

As a point of reference at the average reading speed of 300 wpm a person can complete The Lord of the Rings trilogy in about 27 hours.  Clearly the “need” to continue consuming text in its current printed form in a virtual medium is either based in nostalgia, an industry that has just not felt the need to change, or of a fear that new methods won’t be adopted by consumers.

A small Boston startup known as Spritz wants to turn the many centuries old printing and reading paradigm on its ear in an attempt to increase reading speed, comprehension and efficiency.  They plan on doing this by licensing their new text streaming technology into every device (mobile, computer, wearable, etc) that uses text as an output medium.  Here’s how it works . . .

The mind, and the eyes, care very little about the text that precedes or succeeds its current focus.  Yet studies have shown that the eye wanders on the page as a reader works through a page of text.  According to Spritz 20% of your time is spent processing and comprehending what you read, while the remaining 80% is spent physically moving your eyes across the page and down to the next line, seeking what they call the “ORP” for each word.  ORP stands for “Optimal Recognition Point” which is a point within each word that gives instant recognition and comprehension.  By removing the need for moving the eyes and by highlighting the ORP for every word Spritz believes it can dramatically increase reading speed and comprehension.  The key is to optimize the ORP for every word, get your eye to focus on it, and stream those words to your eyes in a flurry by eliminating the inefficiency of word searching.

How You Read Now

How Spritz Wants You to Read

A Page from Frankenstein
Spritz 350 WPM

You’ll notice that the Spritz method leverages their concept of ORP heavily.  Each word is essentially located within a linear cross hair, and the letter that represents the Optimal Recognition Point is highlighted red.  This method locks your eyes into one position eliminating the 80% wasted time from physically moving your eyes around the page.  The focus here is on pure word recognition, speed and comprehension.  From my quick test it really does work.

But the downside is that Spritz’s new method of reading is rather cold and lifeless.  It’s one step away from having a stream of information injected directly into your brain and bypassing the eye as an input device altogether.  Doing the tests on their website I found that my reading speed increased significantly.  At the same time I found myself a bit stressed out because it felt like I couldn’t stop to take a breath, or even blink lest I miss something.  Additionally it’s likely to add cost to digital works that rely on the licensed technology, as every word (and theoretically every language) must be analyzed for its ORP using their proprietary metrics.

Will the Spritz method replace traditional printed books?  Not in my life time, and probably not in anyone’s life time.  Will it replace reading methods on digital devices which are their current targets?  In some cases yes.  It’s doesn’t take much extrapolation to realize this can save people who rely on reading for career or pleasure a significant amount of time.  But for me there’s still something pleasurable and satisfying about holding an antiquated print book in my hands.

To try Spritz out for yourself visit this page, http://www.spritzinc.com/the-science/, then click on the “click to Spritz” button at the top right of the page.  This demo you can go up to 500 wpm, but plans are to enable the technology up to 1000 WPM.  For more information visit Spritz’s website:  http://www.spritzinc.com

[1] Movable type was first realized in 11th century China, but was not mated with the printing press until c.1439.
[2] Charting the “Rise of the West”: Manuscripts and Printed Books in Europe, A Long-Term Perspective from the Sixth through Eighteenth Centuries
[3] Staples eReader speed test

About Neal Ulen

Neal Ulen
Editor/Webmaster - Engineer by training, nerd by passion. Speculative fiction has influenced me since I was a kid, guiding me to the career I have now, and likely saving me from myself during times in my young life when the path was fraught with a minefield of choices. I dabble in tech, game, film, fiction, and writing. These are my true passions, and have been since the summer of '77.