Why I’m Not So Stoked About Spritz

In case you haven’t been anywhere on the Internet lately, I’ll briefly explain what Spritz is. Actually, in true BH Illuminated fashion, I will copy/paste a description, yanked from the company’s website:

The time consuming part of reading lies mainly in the actual eye movements from word to word and sentence to sentence. In addition, traditional reading simply takes up a lot of physical space. Spritz solves both of these problems. First, your eyes do not have to move from word to word or around the page that you’re reading. In fact, there’s no longer a page – with Spritz you only need 13 total characters to show all of your content. Fast streaming of text is easier and more comfortable for the reader, especially when reading areas become smaller. Spritz’s patent-pending technology can also be integrated into photos, maps, videos, and websites for more effective communication.

tl;dr: Spritz is a speed-reading app. Here’s a demonstration video from some guy on Vimeo:

Spritz (and, inevitably, Spritz knock-offs) could completely change – I refuse to use the word “revolutionize” – the way we read. The company even advertises that you could read an entire novel in less than 90 minutes using this technology. Cool, right? You’ll be able to tell people that you actually read Ulysses, without having to spend a stupid amount of time actually reading it. Because, you know, “the time consuming part of reading lies mainly in the actual eye movement from word to word and sentence to sentence.”

So, that’s great. You can pack a lot more information into your brain a lot quicker. Who needs formal education when you have Spritz? Just kidding. In all seriousness, though, I do have some concerns about this app. And, you know, speed-reading in general.

Speed-reading is nothing new. The first formal speed-reading course was taught at Syracuse University in 1925, but fast readers have been around as long as there has been stuff to read. Really, though, it wasn’t until 1878, when ophthalmologist Louis Émile Javal proved that the eyes didn’t actually stop on every letter while reading, that people started getting really excited about speed-reading.

Before I go any further, I want to stress that I am not anti-speed-reading. I get it. Sometimes, you just need to get through a book. Textbooks, for example, usually suck. Often, when I am a reading a textbook, I wish that I was a faster reader so that I could end the torture sooner. So I don’t mean to say that speed-reading does not have a place in our society. It does. It totally does.

That place, though, is not in literature.

My issue with Spritz is not that it replaces physical books. I don’t mind e-readers or tablets that allow readers to carry their libraries with them no matter where they go; I actually find these technologies quite practical, especially for people who commute or travel regularly. While I don’t use an e-reader or tablet because I am stuck in the past and am not willing to give up the romantic feeling of holding a book or the joy of smelling a book’s pages when no one is watching, I have nothing against those who choose to read a text digitally.

My issue with Spritz is that the company assumes that it is always good to read a book quickly. It assumes that a reader should strive to read as much as possible, as quickly as possible, rather than to savour the words they read, and to make them last.

There are, in fact, times when a writer might want to speed up or slow down the reader; this can be done by choosing particular words, or by changing the amount of white space on the page, or by altering the page’s layout/format (see House of Leaves for an example of this one), or by a million other ways. Whether his/her work is fiction or nonfiction, a writer has the ability to at least partially dictate how a reader reads.

Spritz, however, ignores writer-induced pace changes. By throwing words at a reader at a set speed (for example, 500 words per minute), the reader misses out on the writer’s intended reading experience.

Reading is about more than just words. It’s about more than just content. There is reason that Ulysses is as confusing as it is. James Joyce didn’t have to write in a difficult-to-follow stream-of-conciousness, nor did he have to write so densely or verbosely. These are conscious decisions made by a writer who is trying to say something not through content, but through form. Spritz disregards this completely. Spritz disregards form. Form, though, is a hugely important part of reading.

Even speed-readers reading conventional books are able to see a page’s layout and at least partially (consciously or unconsciously) get at what the writer’s getting at. Spritz, which only shows readers one word at a time, doesn’t allow for this. It doesn’t even try. After all, “fast streaming of text is easier and more comfortable for the reader, especially when reading areas become smaller.” You know what, Spritz? If a writer makes a reading area smaller, chances are pretty darn good that the writer made a conscious decision to shrink that reading area, and that there’s an intended effect hidden there. Even large-print books, which make smaller reading areas bigger, don’t completely disregard form. Speed-reading isn’t even the issue here. The issue is Spritz’s complete disregard of form.

So, in short, I’m not so stoked about Spritz. Sure, I might give it a whirl if I need help getting through an especially dull textbook. When it comes to literature, though, I’m avoiding Spritz out of respect for authorial intent.

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