"My reading technique is actually comprehension by accumulation," Wood once told the New York Times. "I say, which would you rather do: eat a dish of rice kernel by kernel or take a spoonful to get a good taste?"
But most research points to the opposite conclusion: As speed increases, comprehension deteriorates.
In the World Championship Speed Reading Competition, top contestants read about 1,000 to 2,000 words per minute, but they only understand about half of what they take in. One study of 16 high-performing people, including self-proclaimed “speed-readers” found that none could read faster than 600 words per minute while understanding at least three-quarters of the information.
Keith Rayner, a psycholinguist at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, told me that he thinks “all speed-reading claims are nonsensical.”
Spritz’ technique, called rapid serial visual presentation, or RSVP, isn’t new, and Rayner said it causes the same comprehension problems as other strategies.
“We've known forever that people can go fast with one word at a time,” he said. “But if you have them read more than single sentences, then comprehension breaks down because words are coming at you faster than you can deal with them.”
Less-common words take longer to read than typical ones. You can’t look back with RSVP reading, Rayner explained, so working memory overloads. The reader loses her place and starts missing words, and the word-stream becomes more of a blur than a book.
“There are severe limits on how rapidly the mind can combine word concepts to form the idea units ... that define our comprehension of text,” Michael Masson, a psychologist at the University of Victoria, told me via email.
What differentiates fast and slow readers is not how they read, he points out, but their overall language skills and vocabularies.
I asked him if there is any way to get faster at reading.
“Some modest gains in speed can be achieved by having greater knowledge of the subject matter (an expert in a field will read faster than a novice),” he wrote. “Beginning readers can expect to read faster as they gain more practice, but eventually we each reach some upper limit. The simple answer, then, is ‘read more.'”
I Spritzed the “about” text on the company’s site. That’s the only thing available right now for Apple-bound people like me, but the app is already out on Samsung.
It worked, sort of. I was able to cruise along at 600 words per minute, and I only had to use the “pause” button occasionally.
Still, it felt more like a game than a reading experience. The words blazed by, leaving little time for digestion. Despite the speed-reading community’s warning against “subvocalizing,” the frantic pace made me think of the voice of some sort of animated mouse.
“Spritzhasbeenworkingfornearly3yearsin’StealthMode,’” he squeaked breathlessly, “toperfectourreadingmethodology.”