Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Books taught me that my torments were the very things that connected me with all the people who have ever lived

"Spritzing is not for everyone," CEO and co-founder Frank Waldman told Co.Design.
"But for digesting emails, social media streams, and news especially, it allows you
to read more in a shorter amount of time. My 87-year-old aunt-in-law just
started spritzing and she loves it." 
So there’s a new app available and it’s called Spritz and supposedly it lets you read way faster. Friday’s articles touted that a reader could consume 500 words in a single minute. By this week however, claims rose to 1,000 words per minute. I’m just like you in reading these “testimonials” in that I want to know how this is possible.

The science: Spritz works by giving you one word at a time in a 13-character space, and it carefully positions the words so that you never have to move your eyes at all. I guess “eye-movement” is a wasted activity that slows down your reading speed.

But then there’s this nagging “second question” that pops into my mind: why is the world in such a hurry? Maybe I’m old-fashioned or perhaps I’m looking for that elusive experience only hinted upon in EliseFallson’s blog (that of total immersion in a story), but I seriously think I could get no pleasure from Spritz. It seems like a tool that would be useful when trying to cram for an exam. But I graduated from college twenty years ago and (barring the occasional certification that needs renewing) I don’t intend to pursue serious college work again until after I buy my first home. 
I suppose my long time insecurity about books and whether people are reading them or not begins with a general concern that 1) people’s reading habits are changing and 2) this is going to have a very real impact on my life.

If we begin to live in a world where people no longer value books as an immersive getaway, I think our ability to communicate effectively might become impaired. This goes beyond the plethora of spelling errors that I see every day in all walks of life. A few years ago, spotting spelling errors on public signs was funny and cause for a well-placed facepalm. But in 2014, I’m no longer laughing. I recognize it now as a symptom of a greater malaise affecting a whole generation of people who could care less whether something is made to any quality standard.

There’s also evidence (some anecdotal) that people who read fiction for pleasure are more open-minded and better able to deal with uncertainty. And in an essay published in Time Magazine, author Annie Murphy Paul claimed that “the deep reader…enters a state likened to a hypnotic trance. The combination of fast, fluent decoding of words and slow unhurried progress on the page gives deep readers time to enrich their reading with reflection, analysis, and their own memories and opinions.”

On Elise’s blog and her post on “immersion” I expressed my opinion thus: The inimitable power of literature is to give context and meaning to the trials and triumphs of living. Author James Baldwin once put this thought this way: ‘You think your pain and your heartbreak are unprecedented in the history of the world, but then you read. It was books that taught me that the things that tormented me the most were the very things that connected me with all the people who were alive, who had ever been alive.’ I'd say there is no intellectual equivalent to allowing oneself the time and space to get lost in another person’s mind, because in so doing we find ourselves. And that is the crux of my fear.

So ladies and gents, if people are no longer giving themselves time to find themselves and connect with others through books, how on earth will they ever have the context to understand me as a person? After all, it is through ignorance and the lack of understanding that the seed of “intolerance” starts to bear fruit.


  1. It is our pain and our pleasure that connect us.
    I could not read like that. Yes, I'm a slow reader, but one word at a time would drive me nuts.

  2. If people don't read books they can still feel connected through social media so they can gain catharsis through some celebrity's Facebook status update.

    Really I don't think America has ever been that literate of a country. Until probably the earth 20th Century the only book most families owned was a Bible and then later maybe a Sears catalog for toilet paper. A lot of "great" writers remained relatively obscure until late in life or after they died.

  3. I'm for reading books at my usual pace. Why would I want an app to shorten my pleasure? Some people will burn through life, missing all the little details that make life and reading enjoyable.

    Good point about tolerance.

    So, let them spritz through life, just as ephemeral as the mental retention that will likely result. Can you image what kind of reading these people will want next or now. . .(keep it short and don't make me think)

  4. I agree the app might be useful for students but even then one needs time to digest what they've read.

  5. My children and I are all so devoted readers I sometimes don't realize there is a large group of people out there who don't read. It's difficult to imagine and worrisome.

  6. I once considered taking a speed reading class until I realized that what is lost in the process is the art.

  7. This app seems to be offering a solution to a problem that doesn't exist. An app that converted news into interesting information (rather than details of Kim Kardashian's baby) would be much more revolutionary.

    Moody Writing

  8. You've picked on something really profound here. From our connecting at lightning speed, we're becoming more disconnected. Wrapped up in our own little cocoons.

    I loved Elise's post about immersion, because that's why I love to read. I love being in that hypnotic trance. It's a great exercise not only of imagination, but of empathizing with others.

  9. Like you, I'll never understand why some of us seek to live at the speed of light. I like enjoying stories and if I'm confined to reading it in miniscule pieces at a time then I don't seen the enjoyment in it. I might have it wrong, but won't my fingers end up doing more work if I have to be scrolling of whatever it is you do to make the thingummy work?

  10. this was a great post!
    I'm super curious about this ap and would like to try it. But i could only see myself using it for reading something i'm "required" to read that i don't want to or (and this is terrible so maybe look away) if i'm reading someone's ms and it's not very good and i just want to get through it as fast as possible.
    Yes, i'm a monster

  11. There are still a lot of folks reading, I think. But I do think attentions have slackened. Perhaps in the near future, shorter works will become more popular than longer ones. I think it would depend on the age group, though.

    In hope, my nieces and nephew are avid readers and are of the new generation.

  12. I could read faster but I find when I do that I enjoy it less. To do it quickly is not why I read.

  13. The better the writing in a story, the slower I read it. I savor beautiful phrases and sentences and depths of feeling and experience. This faster-faster mentality that surrounds us is driving me nuts too. Maybe one reason (besides the rush to make money or not to fall behind) is that there's so much info everywhere now and too much sensory stimulation. This means too many people aren't listening to the pace of the writer's voice.

  14. I agree with Helena. When I read a book I truly enjoy, I read it slowly and enjoy every word and re-read paragraphs I like. Sometimes I hate to come the end because it was like a nice vacation. I don't enjoy reading so much on my kindle. I tend to read faster.

  15. I may get that app for books I really don't want to read in English, but for books I read for pleasure, I enjoy going slow(isn). As for the future of humanity. . . maybe the zombie apocalypse will end us before we turn into anything too heartless and inconsiderate. Just remember, not everyone is heartless and inconsiderate. :)

  16. I think there are other ways in which to connect, other than books. I think books just gives the experiences a bit more permanence, in the sense that we can visit them again and again? Granted the app is not for that. It seems all about rushing what should be a slow, enjoyable journey. Everything is all about speed now, which is both good and sad at the same time.

  17. Perhaps that kind of reading would be better for non-fiction like studying for a class. For fiction I wouldn't even attempt it.

  18. I would not like that app at all. Although I am not a huge reader, when I do read, I like the feel of an old fashion paper book. I do not even like reading digital books.

  19. Interesting app. I just saw the link and saw what it does. But I like to ponder as I read. And reread.

    I don't think we need to worry. That graphic about how much people all over the world read shows that here in the US, we don't read that much at all. So, those that don't read will continue not to read. And those that do will continue to.

    Daily I see students toting around books to class. And some of them will pull out their books and read instead of doing their classwork. They are our future. (Even if I have to tell them to put the book away and do their work.) We do have a future.

    The proliferation of YA is a good thing. It tells us that there are young readers out there. If we can keep them reading we'll continue to have an audience into the future.

  20. I absolutely love this idea. It reduces the amount of time I spend reading about the publishing industry and world news. I can keep up with the stuff I must read so I have time to sit down with a book I want to read.

  21. I'll take it slow and enjoy reading rather than racing to the end of a book. To me, that would be like inhaling food without enjoying the flavors.