Friday, September 5, 2014

Read Like You're Watching TV with Spritz

One of the strangest things to me is when I talk to people who say they hate reading and haven't read a book since they graduated high school or college. I'm not judging, but it makes me sad on the great literature they're missing out on by not reading.

I understand. Reading can be challenging, time consuming and sometimes downright boring. And today's fast-paced, bite-sized digital world has changed reading in many ways — though the jury is still out on whether this is a good thing or not.

But what if there was a way to read that was more like TV: more relaxing, more bite-sized, and, well, easy? The purists out there would claim this wouldn't be real reading, but if the point of reading is comprehension, knowledge acquisition and enjoyment, why couldn't that be achieved in a better way?

Enter Spritz. This amazing company has created a tool that just might revolutionize the way we read. I know it has for me.

In a nutshell, Spritz is a bookmarklet you install in your web browser (similar to the Pinterest bookmarklet). Any time you're on a website with text to be read, you can click on the bookmarklet and a little overlay appears that looks similar to an audio player. Just push play, keep your eyes in one place, and Spritz practically reads the page to you, displaying one word at a time in rapid succession. It's like watching TV, but you're reading.

Here's how it works. In the center of the Spritz viewing screen are two vertical lines. That's where your eyes stay focused. Spritz displays one word at a time, highlighting in red one of the letters in each word. This isn't just a fun twist, it's actually based on science. Our brains analyze words, looking for a specific point in the word at which the the brain figures out its meaning. Spritz does that work for you, helping your brain relax a bit and focus on the overall meaning.

At first, it can be intimidating to have words thrown at you so fast. And it's tempting not to blink so you don't miss anything. But give it time. I once went two years without watching any TV or movies and I remember how overwhelmed I felt the first time I watched a movie. So much stimulation. But I got used to it and now it's no big deal to watch a movie.

Thankfully, Spritz has multiple reading speeds (expressed in words per minute) that you can adjust to your liking. Not sure what your optimal reading speed is? They have a test for that.

When I first installed the bookmarklet, it was kind of a novelty. Now it's how I read anything of any length on the web. It's faster, my comprehension is as good, if not better than when reading traditionally (again, read the science on it), and I find myself looking for excuses to read something new.

So how does it do on mobile devices? Well, it depends. There are some apps you can download that use the technology, but unfortunately they're paid apps. If you've installed the bookmarklet in Chrome on your computer, you can use the bookmarklet in Chrome on your phone by going to a website and then typing in the address bar: Spritzlet. Chrome will suggest your bookmarklet. Click on this and the Spritz player will load, though it's not optimized for mobile screens yet.

With a little work, you can actually drag the player to a more central position on the screen, though you may need to view it in landscape mode.

Still, in terms of reading on a computer screen with wide pages, Spritz is a great way to read. Give it a try and see what you think.
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