Terry Gilliam's new film, "The Zero Theorem" will be familiar to his fans.
Boston-based tech startup Spritz recently released a new speed-reading technology that will soon become embedded in the many websites, apps and other wearable devices increasingly common to daily communication.
By showing users just one word at a time, the program establishes an “optimal recognition point” designed to speed reading rates anywhere from 100 to 1,000 words per minute. But does it really work? Some experts claim that good old-fashioned “skimming” is still the key to quick comprehension of texts.
Frank Waldman, co-founder and CEO of Spritz, joins Here & Now’s Jeremy Hobson to explain the how the technology works and his hopes for it.
Try Spritz at 250 words per minute (focus on the red letter):
Try Spritz at 350 words per minute:
Try Spritz at 500 words per minute:
On how Spritz works
“It positions words in a spot on a display where you can recognize the word, without moving your eye… About 80 percent of the time reading, conventionally, is spent moving your eye from one word to the next. So just placing each word in a spot where you don’t have to move your eye saves you a lot of time, and that time, your brain can use to process the word you just read, and prepare for reading and recognizing the next word. And so, by placing the word for you in a streaming text display, you’re able to increase your reading speed effortlessly.”
On the analogy of “a treadmill for your eyes”
“Running on the road is hard. You’re distracted. You’re body doesn’t, you know, really get into the perfect speed, unless you run a lot. With a treadmill, you set the speed, hop on it — you don’t have to worry about anything. You just relax and run. And it’s the same with this technique: you set your speed, the words flow in, your brain processes them, and believe it or not, even at that 600-word-per-minute speed you just heard, your brain can recognize those words.”
On the efficacy of Spritz
“We have people reading books, and we test them, and they score higher when asked questions. So, you know, it’s not an academic study. It’s just done by us to make sure that, you know, we know that people can do it. There is a reporter for the Sun over in the U.K. who benchmarked himself reading ‘A Tale of Two Cities,’ and I encourage you to look at the results of what he tells his readers.”
“There is a reading speed for comprehension that’s optimal for each person, and of course, everyone’s brain is different. You know, the figure you’ve seen quoted in a lot of stories is 1,000 words a minute, and we have a guy who’s reading 1,000 words a minute perfect comprehension. I’d say he’s a rare case. Other people read with great comprehension, improved comprehension, at 350 to 400 words a minute, which is almost double their normal reading speed. And that’s enough. You don’t have to read a book in an hour.”
On practical applications for the technology
“We think there’s a lot of opportunity. You know, there’s a lot of analytics that are possible in this technique, because, you know, you’re streaming text that, for the first time, you know that someone’s actually reading it. When you surf a web page, you’re not sure that anyone’s reading the content. So this is a way to know, okay, if it’s being streamed, then the publisher knows, okay, people are actually reading it.”
JEREMY HOBSON, HOST:
It's HERE AND NOW.
And if you've ever had to read a book in a short period of time, or you've wanted to read faster than your little eyeballs can traverse the words on the page, you are going to want to hear this next conversation. There is a new technology called Spritz. It claims it will revolutionize the way we read. Frank Waldman is founder and CEO of Spritz, which created the technology. He's with us from New York. Welcome.
FRANK WALDMAN: Glad to be here, Jeremy.
HOBSON: Well, first of all, what does this do exactly?
WALDMAN: Well, in a nutshell, it positions words in a spot on a display where you can recognize the word without moving your eye. And that's really the secret to it.
HOBSON: And how does that work? Why does that help you read faster - to be able to recognize the word without moving your eye?
WALDMAN: Well, about 80 percent of the time reading, conventionally, is spent moving your eye from one word to the next. So just placing each word in a spot where you don't have to move your eye saves you a lot of time, and that time your brain can use to process the word you just read, and prepare for reading and recognizing the next word. And so by placing the word for you in a streaming text display, you're able to increase your reading speed effortlessly.
HOBSON: And does it work?
WALDMAN: Oh, it works fantastic. So, you know, we started this over two years ago with a very simple prototype. And what surprised me was how quickly people would increase their reading speed. So you'd show it to them at a slow speed, you know, just a little faster than they read normally, and within minutes they had asked to increase the speed to more than double their conventional speed. So it's something that, you know, we tested it with young people, with, you know, my 87-year-old aunt, and fantastic results.
HOBSON: How does the technology figure out which letter to make turn red right in the center or I guess slightly left of the center of the word?
WALDMAN: Yes, that's the secret. There is a character within a word based on the length of the word - that is where your eye will automatically go to recognize the word. And so we turn that character red simply as a device to get you to look there. You don't actually need the red letter. You just need to know where to look. So we have a device called the reticle, which is simply some crosshairs, you know, hash marks in the display where we want you to look. And to keep you looking there, we turn the recognition character red.
HOBSON: OK. Well, since this is radio, people can't see exactly how this works. Although we'll link to it at hereandnow.org, and you can check it out. But we want to give you an example of what it sounds like if you read 300 words per minute. Here's that.
(SOUNDBITE OF BEEPING)
HOBSON: OK. And now let's listen to what it would sound like if you were reading at 600 words a minute.
(SOUNDBITE OF BEEPING)
HOBSON: And we're not even going to play 1,000 words a minute, which is the program's maximum. But essentially this is a treadmill for your eyes, right?
WALDMAN: It is, and I use that analogy often. You know, running on the road is hard. You're distracted. You're body doesn't, you know, really get into the perfect speed, unless you run a lot. With a treadmill, you set the speed, you hop on it, you don't have to worry about anything. You just relax and run. And it's the same with this technique: you set your speed, the words flow in, your brain processes them, and believe it or not, even at that 600-word-per-minute speed you just heard, your brain can recognize those words.
HOBSON: And why do we need this technology?
WALDMAN: Well, you know, we're still reading the way we, you know, read it when we were on stone tablets with carved hieroglyphs, you know?
HOBSON: Well, now, we have Kindles and iPads and things like that, right?
WALDMAN: Yeah, but we're - and we're still reading the same way, reading across, you know, lines and down pages. We don't need to. And so that's the first thing. But the real thing is reading on the go. And in fact, we call it focused reading on the go. You've got a few minutes. You want to get your email, your social posts. You got a little time to read part of a news article. Of course now you could read the whole thing because you're reading faster. And if you want to catch a piece of your book, grab that too. But it's all about reading on small screens on the go.
HOBSON: There are big questions about how much you actually retain, about reading comprehension when you're reading in this way. NBC News quoted a psychology professor who says that with short stuff, this works fine. With longer passages, comprehension goes to pieces. That's a quote.
WALDMAN: Yeah. And, of course, he's never tried it, and we know that because we know who's actually tried it. But I can tell you we have people reading books, and we test them, and they score higher when asked questions. So it's, you know, it's not an academic study. It's just done by us to make sure that, you know, we know that people can do it. There is a reporter for the Sun over in the U.K. who benchmarked himself reading "A Tale of Two Cities," and I encourage you to look at the results of what he tells his readers.
HOBSON: So you would be able to remember and comprehend as much reading a novel at, say, in an hour as you would if you were to take five hours to read it?
WALDMAN: Well, I'm not saying that. You know, there is a reading speed that's optimal for comprehension for each person. And, of course, everyone's brain is different. You know, the figure you've seen quoted in a lot of stories is 1,000 words a minute, and we have a guy who's reading 1,000 words a minute with perfect comprehension. I'd say he's a very rare case. Other people read with great comprehension, improved comprehension, at 350 to 400 words a minute, which is almost double their normal reading speed. And that's enough. You don't have to read a book in an hour.
HOBSON: And, of course, this is not a new idea, right? This goes all the way back decades.
WALDMAN: That's right. Rapid serial visual presentation was created back in the '80s. And, in fact, the science around eye recognition was done as early as the '60s. So these concepts have been around. Unfortunately, they were never synthesized into this concept that we've introduced. And so, you know, there's a fatal flaw in the conventional RSVP applications, and that's why you haven't seen them until now.
HOBSON: They really need to come up with another acronym for that.
WALDMAN: RSVP, right.
HOBSON: Yeah. I think that that one's already in use. When will we be able to get this?
WALDMAN: Well, as announced two weeks ago in Barcelona at the Mobile World Congress, it'll be available in an email application for Samsung's new Gear 2 smart watch and Galaxy S5 smartphone. We are rolling out a software kit that allows developers to build it into applications and integrate it into Web pages. So, you know, very soon you'll start seeing these appear.
HOBSON: And how much is it going to cost?
WALDMAN: Oh, it's not going to cost anything. Well, for the publishers, the people who are integrating it into their sites, we've decided to make it a no-cost license. And that's because we want to build a community of a billion users, and we want to do it as fast as we can.
HOBSON: So what's in it for you?
WALDMAN: Well, you know, it's the same, what was in it for Twitter or Facebook or Snapchat or WhatsApp, you know? There's a lot of large user-base platforms that, you know, look to monetize later. And that's the model we're following.
HOBSON: Just build a big community and figure out how to make money on it later.
WALDMAN: Yeah, that's the short way to put it. But we think there's a lot of opportunity. You know, there's a lot of analytics that are possible in this technique, because, you know, you're streaming text that, for the first time, you know, you know that someone's actually reading it. When you surf a Web page, you're not sure that anybody's reading the content on the page. So this is a way to know, OK, if it's being streamed, then the publisher knows, OK, people are actually reading it.
HOBSON: Frank Waldman is the CEO of Spritz technology. And you can see it for yourself at hereandnow.org. Frank, thanks so much for joining us.
WALDMAN: All right, Jeremy. Thanks a lot.
HOBSON: And, you know, Robin, just reading about this and talking to him, I was reminded of quote from Woody Allen. He said, I took a speed-reading course and read "War and Peace" in 20 minutes. It involves Russia.
ROBIN YOUNG, HOST:
HOBSON: From NPR and WBUR Boston, I'm Jeremy Hobson.
YOUNG: I'm Robin Young. This is HERE AND NOW. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.