At the risk of sounding like a Luddite, fuck Spritz. The “insane” new app that will let you read faster sure sounds nifty, promising to let you finish a novel in under 90 minutes. It works by throwing the words, one by one, in front of your eyes so that you can comprehend text far quicker, jumping from average of 220 words per minute to 350wpm to even 1000wpm. You save so many precious seconds by not having to move your eyes to read and according to the app creators, reading comprehension actually improves.
And Spritz does work, at least judging from the sample gifs provided. But it completely derails every reason I have for reading in the first place. So who really cares?
Cynic, much? Yeah, I’m only one person and my preferred way to read is not the end-all, be-all. Spritz seems to offer an ingenious solution to a modern-day problem: no one has time to read. Every intellectual person I know used to read at least a book a week, in those days before broadband. Nowadays, most friends I talk to bemoan the fact that they have no time to read at all and for many, including myself, it can take entire seasons to get through a single novel.
With such a time-crunch, wouldn’t it be great if we could suddenly read faster and catch up on everything? There are so many great novels I’ve never had the patience or time for, but FOMO keeps me wondering. Now I can crack through Dostoevsky, Tolstoy, Joyce and more in mere hours, not months! I could get through an entire encyclopedia! Think how much I could learn!
But honestly, this seems like a poor way to fix such a problem, because quick comprehension is not the same as deep comprehension. Taking my time getting through a book is the point. I take notes in the margins, reading slowly and then rereading the last few pages again. I love authors that are confusing at first, like T.S. Eliot or Kafka, writers that require you to read and reread something in order to understand it.
Take this quote from Blood Meridian by Cormac McCarthy:
“A legion of horribles, hundreds in number, half naked or clad in costumes attic or biblical or wardrobed out of a fevered dream with the skins of animals and silk finery and pieces of uniform still tracked with the blood of prior owners, coats of slain dragoons, frogged and braided cavalry jackets, one in a stovepipe hat and one with an umbrella and one in white stockings and a bloodstained weddingveil and some in headgear of cranefeathers or rawhide helmets that bore the horns of bull or buffalo and one in a pigeontailed coat worn backwards and otherwise naked and one in the armor of a spanish conquistador, the breastplate and pauldrons deeply dented with old blows of mace or saber done in another country by men whose very bones were dust and many with their braids spliced up with the hair of other beasts until they trailed upon the ground and their horses’ ears and tails worked with bits of brightly colored cloth and one whose horse’s whole head was painted crimson red and all the horsemen’s faces gaudy and grotesque with daubings like a company of mounted clowns, death hilarious, all howling in a barbarous tongue and riding down upon them like a horde from a hell more horrible yet than the brimstone land of Christian reckoning, screeching and yammering and clothed in smoke like those vaporous beings in regions beyond right knowing where the eye wanders and the lip jerks and drools.”
At first glance, that paragraph looks overwhelming. There are few, if any, breaks and barely any punctuation in this monstrous runon. The tendency is to read it quickly, but the sparse language is drowned in bizarre words you’re sort of familiar with, but rarely encounter reading, so you trip up often. You get lost in this maze, having to start over and then keep repeating the process until you can fully take in the entire piece. It’s a lot like a mural — Picasso’s Guernica, for example — you have to look at each individual scene of violence before you can see the entire battlefield.
Plain and simple, Spritz can’t fucking do that. If it tried, you wouldn’t be able to grasp it. It would be like showing you one pixel at a time from a high-res photo. Obviously, you can argue that it wouldn’t and maybe you even hate this kind of writing so fuck it anyway. Again, my way is not necessarily the “right” way, but if I don’t read something that doesn’t sit with me, why would I read at all? I could just as easily watch TV or a movie.
I’m not even addressing the other pitfalls of digital reading, which have been covered ad nauseum. I prefer everything from books to music to sex in its physical form. And I like seeing how the words play off each other in their careful arrangement. It’s the same reason I don’t like audio books, but at least in a recording, there is tone, inflection and cadence — Spritz doesn’t even have that going for it.
I’m not saying that this kind of technology has no application. If I wanted to read a self-help book or non-fiction or something dry, like a Robert Ludlum novel, then I wouldn’t mind getting through it so quickly. But that’s what things like Wikipedia and WikiHow are for — and I feel like it’s a little easier to grasp information from those sources.
Sure, Spritz claims their product increases comprehension, because of course they say that, but I’m not sure I believe them, because it doesn’t make fucking sense. Skimming books doesn’t help comprehension and even if I can retain something from speed-reading, it’s not the same as deeper, reflective introspective reading. What I mean is, after I finish a really meaningful paragraph or chapter, I shut the book and mull on it for a while — sometimes days — before returning to it. Maybe that’s the real reason I trek so much slower through books than I did in high school — I’m not reading garbage anymore.
Anything that I actually want to read requires deeper reflection. Like most people, I use books as an escape, but I also use them as a moral compass and a spiritual median and to really achieve that, I need something that rips into me and spits me out. Spritz doesn’t offer that either.
I can’t speak for everyone and I’m aware I risk coming across as a pretentious literary douche. But from what I know about my friends and family, this app doesn’t offer a solid answer. Please correct me if you think I’m wrong, but I feel the real solution to the problem of not reading enough can be solved by better time management skills. We are not slaves to our technology, at least not entirely. But an app like this would increase the amount of time you’re on your phone, not lessen it. How would that really free up the time you need to reflect and be introspective? A book is one of the last things we’ve got that allows us some time to cool our souls. There are screens everywhere now — even in the fucking grocery store — and that trend doesn’t seem to be slowing at all. Don’t we need detox more than we need crutches?
Yet, I’m glad this technology exists. If this helps someone, good for them. Maybe you’re using it now and just read this blog in 3 seconds. But what I really want is more time, more discipline and less distractions. Can they come up with an app that does that?
Troy Farah has been reading since he was three. See his stupid ugly website.