Read This as Fast as You Can!
Do you wish you’d already finished reading this column?
If so, I won’t take it personally. As I zip around the web all day, saving interesting-sounding articles to Instapaper, or clipping news relevant to some topic I’m researching into Evernote, I often feel like what I really want is not to read all this material — but rather to have read it.
As you’ll learn by actually reading to the end of this piece, that urge isn’t a wholly new thing. But max-capacity reading is in vogue now. In the last couple of weeks, for instance, a new app called Spritz attracted lots of attention with a promise to “triple your reading speed,” and a browser extension called Spreeder has been praised by vocal fans.
Other speed-reading apps to emerge in the past year or so include Outread and Syllable, among others. Most of these tools seem to strive to increase reading speed by reducing “subvocalization” — the tendency to “say” what we’re reading to ourselves, in our heads — by using technology to tweak the way we see words.
The Spritz method.
This zip-read outbreak echoes the increasingly popular use of “reading time” promises on sites from Byliner to Slate — announcing right next to the headline how long it will supposedly take (a minute? 20 minutes?) to get through a given story.
Slate, March 10, 2014
Similarly, Kindles inform readers how much reading time they have left in a given book or chapter. And as Marketwatch recently noted, they also have a less-celebrated feature that allows readers to toggle between reading and listening to a text to let a person “shuffle the pages of books into every spare minute of his day: listen for 30 minutes while jogging, thumb through a few pages on his iPhone while waiting at the doctor’s office,” and so on.
Taken together, these developments speak to some kind of hunger for textual efficiency — combining the fetishization of having read with a certain impatience for actual reading.
And perhaps that adds up to a classic example of technology deployed to solve problems technology caused. The web has obviously given us more to read than ever — and counterintuitively that has turned out to include an explosion of notably long texts. I wrote about the irritating use of #longread as a badge of honor last year; James Bennet and Jonathan Mahler have made similar arguments. The long and the short of it is that we’re all looking for a life raft in a digital ocean of words. No wonder the New Impatience also manifests itself in the increasingly popular shorthand “tl;dr” — too long; didn’t read.