A new app called Spritz promises to help people read faster by displaying longer media (texts, e-mails, digital books) one word at a time. According to the company’s website, the key to Spritz lies in its identification of the Optimal Recognition Point:
“For each word, the eye seeks a certain point within the word, which we call the “Optimal Recognition Point” or ORP. After your eyes find the ORP, your brain starts to process the meaning of the word that you’re viewing…Spritzing presents reading content with the ORP located at the specific place where you’re already looking, allowing you to read without having to move your eyes.”
In simple terms, Spritz uses red text to highlight the key point in each word such that your eye focuses on that point immediately, allowing you to recognise each word faster than if you were scanning across a page. Spritz users can also choose their own reading speed, with 250 words per minute being the slowest available.
Many who have encountered Spritz on the web have focused on its aim to help us read faster, on the concept of using such a tool to zip through weighty tomes like War and Peace or Atlas Shrugged. While I wouldn’t be surprised if Spritz could indeed help readers make it from cover to cover faster, I question whether the journey would be as enjoyable. In my limited exposure to the app, mainly through the company’s website I found the reading experience stilted, without the cognitive and tonal flow I normally enjoy when reading fiction and creative non-fiction.
It seems I’m not the only reader to pick up on this quality, with one article from The Telegraph stating “Spritz is undoubtedly clever and perfectly suited to small-screen smartphones…But it is an enemy to elegant prose…”
An article from The Boston Globe also explores the possibility that adding another app which requires long bouts of strict attention to a screen may increase the tech-related eye fatigue termed “computer vision syndrome.”
As a person whose family had their first Atari before I was old enough to know the alphabet, I’m wary of becoming the type of reader who auto-rejects new technology based approaches to encountering the written word. I can definitely see the merit in an app like Spritz for some forms of content, such as the news (in some ways the app feels similar to the ticker tape of headlines that often runs beneath television newscasters). However, as a happy non-speed reader and frequent marginalia writer, I also have a gut negative reaction to the idea of encountering literature in a Spritz or Spritz-like format. I don’t believe literature is about how quickly we can move through it. It’s about savouring, ruminating. A good book isn’t a spritz, it’s a deluge.