From: The New Yorker

Life Is Short, Proust Is Long

The New Yorker:

Of all the forms of entertainment, reading is the most laborious. Doing the voices of fictional characters in your head is hard. Remembering their names is also hard. Prolonged sitting, we are told, is as bad for us as smoking. Reading is abysmally sedentary. All motion is confined to the eyes, and there the mechanics are ungainly. The human retina is a sensor that is weakest at its edges. Only at its very center, in a region called the fovea, do we see with sufficient acuity to tell individual letters apart. The fovea is small, just wide enough to encompass eight characters. When we read, we are peering through this pinhole. The analogy is with a blinkered horse.

The demo on proves that it works, in limited doses. How it would hold up over the longer haul of a novel, or a single sentence by Henry James, remains a subject of speculation. When I asked Keith Rayner, a professor of psychology at U.C. San Diego who runs an eye-tracking laboratory, for his opinion of the science behind Spritz, he was silent for a moment. Then he said, “Hogwash.” Spritz’s Web site alludes to eye-tracking studies but doesn’t cite any in particular, an omission Spritz defends as a way of protecting its intellectual property. Rayner thinks that it is telling. “The language, the techniques—they used different words,” he said. “But the ideas have been around since the seventies.”

Rayner was referring to rapid serial visual presentation (R.S.V.P.), a decades-old speed-reading method that functions, like Spritz, by flashing individual words onto a screen. The difference lies in the O.R.P., which R.S.V.P. lacks. In his 2009 book, “Reading in the Brain,” the French cognitive scientist Stanislas Dehaene suggests that R.S.V.P. might point the way for “the future of reading in a world where screens progressively replace paper.” Spritz presents itself as that future, but Rayner argues that, like R.S.V.P., “It won’t work on longer texts. Every time the brain needs to pause, it will be derailed.”

Read the whole story: The New Yorker

See Keith Rayner at the 26th APS Annual Convention.

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