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Absorbing Text: Rereading Speed Reading

Nathan Jones & Sam Skinner

Speed reading applications such as Spritz (2014) isolate individual words from bodies of text and display them sequentially, often with the middle letter highlighted. Known as Rapid Serial Visual Presentation (RSVP), its proponents suggest it can accelerate reading speed from the average of 100-200 words per minute, to over 1000. This is principally achieved by the visual system reducing the number of saccades involved in “normal” reading. When reading a word among many other words, for example a line of text, you are reading both backwards and forwards, scanning ahead for words within your parafoveal vision, and back again. The speed reading app Spritz declares on its website that:

You’ll find that you will be able to inhale content when you regain the efficiencies associated with not moving your eyes to read. And you will no longer move your eyes in unnatural ways.11 Spritz, “How it works,” 2014, http://b-o.fr/spritz

This is a new natural then, where we inhale content, and exhale who knows what. Not so much vapourware, as vaping words. But this invocation of old “unnatural ways” and new physical and neuronal processes is both the most radical conceptual side effect of this esoteric technology, and the rhetoric that surrounds it. […] In fact, speed reading as a term, application and a commercial enterprise, in the case of Spritz and others like it, has essentially appropriated and redirected the science of RSVP toward their own commercial, and one could say accelerationist ends.22 Accelerationism is a term coined by Benjamin Noys, to refer to the political ideology of embracing capitalism’s tendency towards destructive speed. In recent years, there has been a split between “left-accelerationist” theorists such as Alex Williams and Nick Srnicek, and the “right-accelerationism” of Nick Land, who suggests that rather than using the collapse of capital to improve social conditions, we should embrace accelerated flows “precisely for their inhuman, violent, and destructive power” (Shaviro). That such an apparatus is framed in terms of increasing speed and the productivity of the reader, is perhaps unsurprising—in an age where speed and efficiency appear to be synonymous with technological development. There has of course been an increasing interest in speed within the social sciences and the humanities in recent years. From the work of Paul Virilio,33 Paul Virilio, Speed and Politics, trans. Mark Polizzotti, (Cambridge, MA.: MIT Press, [1977] 2006); Paul Virilio, The Great Accelerator, trans. Julie Rose, (Cambridge, MA.: Polity, [2010] 2012). [Editor’s Note] in particular Speed and Politics and The Great Accelerator, through to more recent work such as Hartmut Rosa and William E. Scheuerman’s book High-Speed Society.44 Hartmut Rosa and William. E. Scheuerman, ed., High-speed society: social acceleration, power, and modernity, (University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 2009), 2.…