Michael J. McDonagh

An established writer who recently went to work becoming an author, trying valiantly to make someone give a damn and chronicling the process.

A Comment From and Response to “Jim Bob Spritz”

I received a comment yesterday from “Jim Bob” a/k/a “nothanks@anonymous.com” on my post The Spritz or teh Shitz. I’m not in the habit of responding to (or even allowing) anonymous posts that have been washed through anonymizing proxy servers. If you have something to say, stand up and say it. The title of this blog is my full name, including my middle initial, for fuck’s sake.

I’m willing to make an exception in this case because “Jim Bob” seems to have a dog in this fight. Plus, he was reasonable and polite, which I appreciate. I have to assume he was responding in a quasi official (if anonymous) capacity. Here is his comment:

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Needless to say, I don’t think “Jim Bob” is a regular reader of this blog. He also seems uniquely spun up on Spritz corporate matters. And, like I said, he’s reasonable and polite. Assuming this is a quasi official response from Spritz, here are my replies to the points he makes:

 1)    The phrase “insane new app” came from an article, not the developers.

I guess the joke I lead off with is a little less funny. That has nothing to do with my substantive critique of the product, but my bad.

2)     Spritz is intended for e-mail and news articles, not novels. The 15K+ stories about Spritz were sensationalizing with the “read a famously long book in a short period of time” thing.

Wow. Okay. That was fifteen thousand (plus) times you could have said “that’s not what this technology really does or is intended for.” From what I can read, you clarified that point zero of them. You did, however, get all excited about the first book to be converted to Spritz technology — without bothering to say “but this isn’t really for reading books.”

That raises an interesting new set of issues, though. The average e-mail is open for a total of about fifteen seconds. Not because it’s readable in that time. At least not word by word, first word to last, which is how you will be limited to reading it with Spritz. People tend to skim e-mail to see if they need the information, something Spritz makes impossible. So it’s entirely likely this innovation is simply a way to less efficiently go through the content of an e-mail, in the name of more quickly looking at every word it contains. One. Word. At. A. Time.

That aside, the most that could be claimed in an ideal Spritz world is reduction of about eight seconds on the time it takes to read an e-mail. I can see why you are playing up the first book converted to this format, even if that’s not what this technology is supposed to be all about.

3)    This is a major update to the 1970s technology. Spritz centers/focuses the word with the line and red letter so it’s easier to take in. That’s why comprehension is better.

Maybe you read my article by Spritzing it, because you seem to have missed the point entirely. Here is my point: Your product is premised on a completely false notion. I am going to put it in bold and all capital letters. If you are going to respond to something, please respond to this:

THE RATE AT WHICH WE READ IS NOT RESTRICTED BY HOW QUICKLY WE CAN MOVE OUR EYES. HOW QUICKLY WE MOVE OUR EYES IS GOVERNED BY THE RATE AT WHICH WE COMPREHEND.

We read at the rate we do for a reason, and it is not because our eyes cannot move faster. Just like we talk at the rate we do for a reason. If humans were capable of processing information at twice the rate we do, don’t you think we would have developed a system of writing that presented information twice as fast? Written language did not develop randomly.

We read at the rate we do because that is the rate at which our brains can process the information. For most people, anything above 300 WPM can only be achieved through a loss of comprehension. For people particularly skilled and adept at reading, that number can go all the way to 400 WPM. Our eyes are capable of flying over words faster than that. We don’t because our freaking brains cannot take in the information any faster than that.

You have developed a toy that shoves the words in front of readers at a rate faster than their brains will naturally allow. Instead of the reader’s brain making the decision about speed vs. comprehension, the app says, “here’s the speed, comprehend whatever you can.”

Your product is (per your website) built around the premise that:

“Reading is inherently time consuming because your eyes have to move from word to word and line to line.”

That premise is simply wrong. Our eyes are fully capable of focusing and moving “from word to word and line to line” a hell of a lot faster than they do. Saccades do not happen at the rate they do because our eyes cannot move faster, they move at the rate they do because that is the rate a given reader can comprehend the information that is coming in. Including backward saccades and other movements that exist solely for purposes of comprehension.

Reading is inherently time consuming because our brains regulate how fast the information comes in. Taking that regulator off does not make a person read faster. That is the difference between “reading” and “looking at words.”

So, if I was wrong about who attributed the catchy title “insane new app” to Spritz, I’m sorry. My point, however, is that your product is premised on a conception of reading – and what limits reading speed – that is simply wrong. Your company appears to be marketing an app that lets people look at words really fast.

If you are interested in responding responsibly (i.e., not with an anonymous e-mail through an anonimizing proxy server) I would be thrilled to post your comments on my blog. And I would be thrilled to see some scientific data to support the premise your product is based on – that how quickly we move our eyes is determined my their ability to move and focus, not our brain’s ability to comprehend information.

To be honest, I’d also be thrilled if this were really a thing. Pleasure reading aside, I read volumes of painfully dry materials, usually several hours per day, at my day job. If I could ratchet that up with your app, and leave my pleasure reading as-is, I’d be tickled pink. It would be like meeting some of my nutritional requirements through a delicious meal and dealing with the rest by way of a multivitamin. I don’t have any particular problem with the concept of merely dumping information into our brains as fast as possible — the option to go slower would always be available. My issue with this technology is simply that the limit to how fast we can dump that information into our brains (and comprehend it) is not defined by how quickly we can look at words. Your product is built around the assumption that it is.

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One thought on “A Comment From and Response to “Jim Bob Spritz”

  1. Oy. Like you, I appreciate the response, but if it is indeed from someone who is “in the know,” I would prefer to know what their role is, so I could understand how to weight and filter their comment.

    Honestly, the reply bothers me more than the idea I had before (I can definitely think of a few “classics” I needed to read for school that were tedious, to say the least). News. NEWS. News is important. Journalism is important. As it is, at least half of what we are being fed as “news” these days are actually blog posts or out and out propaganda. And of course, Facebook memes. Questionable fact checking, leave those pesky ideas re impartiality at the door.

    We don’t need to be flying through news articles more quickly, and I don’t want to teach my children to do so. What we need to do is slow down, worry less about sexy headlines, soundbites, and blog hits, and put more time and thought into separating fact–raw data, concrete info that can be confirmed regardless of political leanings–from spin.

    Sorry, this is a hot button issue for me. Hrrumph.

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