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.

Archive for the tag “Spritz”

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.

The Spritz or teh Shitz?

“Yea, yea, but your scientists were so preoccupied with whether or not they could that they didn’t stop to think if they should.” — Ian Malcolm, Jurassic Park.

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  The developers of “Spritz” tout it as “an insane new app” that allows you to read 1,000 words per minute. I was somewhat surprised that the app’s developers and I have precisely the same assessment of the technology, since I’m not a fan and they are the people who are trying to sell it. First, a definition:

in·sane

inˈsān/ adjective 1. in a state of mind that prevents normal perception, behavior, or social interaction; seriously mentally ill. “certifying patients as clinically insane”

synonyms: mentally ill, mentally disordered, of unsound mind, certifiable.

This is a freaking milestone for truth in advertising. At least if you take it at face value. I’m sure they mean “insane” as in “check out how insane I am with my skateboard and bong full of Redbull.” In other words, “We’re a bunch of middle aged dudes who realized our target audience is our kids’ ages, so we’re trying to talk all hip and cool, like Shaun White or something, like the marketing consultants told us to.” First, there is nothing sadder than a dude who looks like this:

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“Wooooah, Dude, this is totally freaking insane!”

. . . talking like that. I know, because I look a hell of a lot more like the guy in that picture than whatever caricature of an awesome hipster stoner dude he’s trying to channel.  It’s still funny, though, because my biggest criticism of Spritz stems from the fact that it is insane — it quite literally, forces you to read “in a state of mind that prevents normal perception.”

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First, what is it?

Spritz is a concept that takes some of the science we covered in What the Reader Really Sees on the Page, and ignores the rest of the science behind how we read, in the name of reading faster. The app flashes text on the screen, one word at a time, at rates up to 1,000 words per minute. It looks like this:

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First off, that is 500 words a minute. Although they claim their mentally imbalanced insane app lets you read twice that fast, none of the posted examples actually go that high. They go half that high, which should probably tell you something –particularly if you find 500 WPM version as annoying as I do. There is no fucking way I could be bombarded like that for two or three hours.

But, that’s what it is (at 50% power, anyway).

What do they claim?

The Spritz people make all sorts of claims on their website and in their marketing materials. Their explanation is summarized on their webpage, which states:

Traditional reading involves publishing text in lines and moving your eyes sequentially from word to word. For each word, the eye seeks a certain point within the word, which we call the “Optimal Recognition Point” or ORP. After your eyes find the ORP, your brain starts to process the meaning of the word that you’re viewing. With each new word, your eyes move, called a “saccade”, and then your eyes seek out the ORP for that word. Once the ORP is found, processing the word for meaning and context occurs and your eyes move to the next word. When your eyes encounter punctuation within and between sentences, your brain is prompted to assemble all of the words that you have read and processes them into a coherent thought. 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 ORP. With Spritz we help you get all that time back.

Are their claims true?

Some of the words they’re throwing around probably sound familiar if you read this blog. Much of what they are saying, when it comes to the process of how we read, is absolutely true. We move our eyes in saccades, hopping from word to word. We have a focal point (where your fovea is pointed). Our eyes find a point in the word that allows our brain to best process it (what they are calling the “ORP”).

Much of what they’re saying is blatantly misleading, though. For starters, it’s not like you have time to order a pizza while your eye is looking for a place to focus (the “ORP”) in the next word. Your brain already found it and told your eye where to go while you were reading the previous word. That’s the reason we see seven or eight letters ahead of the four letters we are focused on, regardless of whether we read left to right (e.g., English) or right to left (e.g., Hebrew). If the word is exceedingly familiar and a few letters long (like “and”) our fovea will never rest on it, it’s already moved to the following word.

I have absolutely no idea where they came up with the “20% of our time reading is spent processing content, and 80% is spent moving our eyes” thing. I tried to find a study supporting that (the Google machine brings back a lot of Spritz shitz, and nothing else). But the claim is idiotic just on its face. I know, because I read, and the entire time I’m reading, I have a little movie going on in my head. I haven’t had 20% movie, 80% waiting for the next frame of the movie since I stopped having to sound out every freaking word when I was five years old.

While it’s true the rate of eye movements is absolutely the gating issue when it comes to reading speed, they apparently didn’t realize that we developed our alphabetic/syllabic system of writing to function with the way we process words. We do so through the auditory faculties in our brains, which have only known “language” as anything but sound for between 1% and .0025% of the time our species has had language. So I think the Spritzheads have the concept completely backward — our ability to read is not limited by the system we created for communicating in writing, we developed a system of writing that mirrors our ability to convert letters into syllables, syllables into ideas, and “hear” what the hell is going on in the story.

This whole “we spend 80% of our time waiting for our eyes to move” concept is pure bullshit, and completely ignores the way the brain is planning the next saccade while the fovea is focused on a prior word. Something that spritz stops your brain from doing.

They make a slew of other claims I’m willing to call bullshit on, too.

  • This is not “new.” This technology has been around since the 1970s. The biggest innovation Spritz has to offer is hype.
  • Humans can talk faster than we normally talk, too, but we speak and, not coincidentally, read at a rate of 200-300 words per minute, which is the maximum rate at which we can communicate in any fashion without diminishing comprehension.
  • Speaking of comprehension (and speaking of complete bullshit), they claim “studies have shown” there is no decrease –and may even be an increase– in comprehension with Spritz. They don’t cite a single study, though, and thousands of studies have been performed on comprehension. Every reputable study concludes anything faster than 300 WPM comes at a comprehension cost.

Spritz is hyping itself by making claims about how humans read that blend a little bit of science with a whole pile of bullshit to offer a product that has basically been available since eight-track tapes were a thing. They also have to ignore most of the science behind reading — particularly the fact that our brain is processing what the next word is subconsciously while we are reading the prior word — in order to justify their product’s existence. You simply cannot read faster than our writing system is normally read without suffering a decrease in comprehension. You can’t even listen to someone talk faster than that without having the same problem.

Our language forms (written and verbal, including every language in use on the planet) are limited by, and have basically developed to work optimally with, our brain’s ability to process and comprehend. Can you throw more words at someone? You bet. Our ears and eyes can take in hundreds of times more words than our brains can process. If I don’t give a shit about comprehension, I can glance at a whole page of a book at once, while ten people are talking and the TV is on. If, on the other hand, I plan on comprehending the words I am presented with, then 300 is about my max — and yours, too — for any given minute of either of our lives.

Is Spritz worth a shitz?

Not really. There’s a reason this technology went the way of the bell-bottomed pants, eight-track tape, and pet rock. for one thing, not all saccades are forward. While the movie in our head is playing at 300 WPM, our eyes will sometimes double-check something we already read. And since we read, talk, and think in what is essentially real-time, reading a novel three times that fast would be –quite literally– like watching a movie played in fast forward.

If your goal was to just get through Moby Dick so you could say you read it, but had no intention of enjoying it, I guess it could work. I can’t imagine being thrilled you just crushed every poem Maya Angelou ever wrote during one lunch break, but that’s effectively what Spritz has to offer. You’d have a level of comprehension somewhere between someone who really read the book and someone who just lied and said “Yea, I’ve read Moby dick,” but you could still claim you read it.

If you were reading something you actually need to comprehend, like I do at work all freaking day, I would strongly caution against it. There is just no science that supports the idea that a normal human can comprehend faster than we normally speak and read.

If you were reading something for pleasure, well you should do whatever the hell you want, because what you do for pleasure is up to you. And it could be kinda funny to read 50 Shades that way — just to see all that undressing and screwing happen at three times normal human speed. The lack of retention and comprehension would be an added bonus there, too.

Ultimately, if your goal is to have more than a vague recollection that you read something and the right to say (at least partially) truthfully “I’ve read that book,” Spritz doesn’t really bring anything worthwhile to the party. For better or worse, we talk and read and hear and comprehend at a rate of about 300 WPM, max. Anything above that either comes at a cost in comprehension or is, literally, too good to be true. If that’s even good. Since I like the little mind movies that happen when I read — and don’t mind the fact that they aren’t all in fast-forward, I’ll just call it bullshit.

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