Reading vs. Streaming

By David


I’ve always viewed speed reading with suspicion. Then I discovered Spritz – a text streaming app – and for an avid reader, with a preference for books, it takes some getting used to.

The premise seems to be; with so much to read – read faster.

To me it’s a simplistic response to distraction and information overload.

From the Spritz website:

When reading, only around 20% of your time is spent processing content. The remaining 80% is spent physically moving your eyes from word to word and scanning for the next ORP1. With Spritz we help you get all that time back.

Being human does involve a lot of repetitive physical positionings before we can start doing something: chewing, for example, before we swallow food – activities that can be framed as time lost. I guess we are going to have to live with it. 2

And even if I could, I don’t think I’d want to read Catcher in the Rye in three hours – I’d feel physically sick – and I’d miss the point of reading fiction, which to my mind means finding emotions on the page, and allowing it to reshape our internal emotional landscapes.

But hang on, I hear you say: text streaming is not for reading fiction, what about business reading? Surely this is an area where reading faster will help, just think of all the emails we need to get through…

Considering the scale of the challenges before us, I’d counter that business, or professional reading, requires the greatest care. Reading faster is not the answer. A different kind of reading is required, and it starts by deciding what to read, how to interpret, and how to respond.

We are not mechanical machines; we are emotional machines. To be different to what we are we need a different biology. 3

I’m not arguing against being productive, but as a species, if there is anything we need to do more – it is doing less of wanting to do more. 4

The productivity-movement is selling their ideas on the premise that by doing things more ‘efficiently’, ‘time’ will open up for ‘other’ things.

But for me, traditional reading is one of those ‘other’ things, and no better way to invest ‘time’. Even if, in a mechanical context, I’m wasting 80% while doing it.

  1. ORP: Optimal Recognition Position

  2. Enter the rise of mindfulness.

  3. Behaviour has an impact on biology – but how committed are we to adopt new behaviours that we know we should?

  4. In a climate change world this can be interpreted as a type of ‘productivity’.