From the beginning, EduKindle has really been about the meetup between digital technology and reading. Not so much the impact of technology on the publication of text, although that has a long, long history that has involved advances in technology at every step (see Mr. Gutenberg and his press, or Mr. Hammurabi and his stele). Intense interest in how technology affects the act of reading, though, has been catalyzed in our time by Mr. Bezos and his Kindle. (Mr. Jobs, who begat the iPad, was of the opinion that “nobody reads anymore.”) And it was Mr. Bezos who gave us a mission in the brave new world of technology-assisted reading: the Kindle was supposed to making reading a “frictionless” experience.
While it is clear that Mr. Bezos was probably thinking more about the book purchasing experience than he was about the reading process itself, we give him a pass. The two go hand in hand, it seems; if the world weren’t full of people trying to make money in publishing, we’d still be cutting the pages of our books apart with paper knives. And the Kindle accelerated greatly the “tech assist” for both processes: it is MUCH easier to find and buy books because of Amazon, and it is MUCH easier to read those books because of Amazon. (One need only look at the ability to modify font size to see the impact of digital technology on the act of reading.)
Now there are three new ways to make reading frictionless, and they all tell us how far we have come since the days when we were sticking a paper clip into the backs of our Kindles to bring them back to life. In fact, none of the three are designed for Kindle–they all have devices from Mr. Jobs’s universe in mind for their operation. Let’s look first at a tool that literally “squirts” words at the reader.
The tool is called Spritz (“squirt”) and promises to enhance the reading experience by speeding it up. Literally. Instead of that old fashioned habit we have developed of moving our eyes across a page of text, Spritz breaks that text down to single words and flashes them, one at a time, on the screen of your phone (or presumably, your tablet)–while your eyes sit still! Who knew how much time we were wasting muscling our eyeballs across that page! The folks at Spritz will tell you, with lots of talk about the “optical recognition point” in each word, the “redicle” (the name of their reading pane), and all the little saccades that we unwittingly perform while looking for the ORP of each word on a page of print. The folks at Spritz also suggest that their process may even help those with reading troubles, as some of those troubles have to do with the physical ability of the eye to track across text properly. As you know, we love the science of reading, so all these claims are of great interest for applying these capabilities in the classroom.
Step one with Spritz is to see it in action. Go here for their demo, click your cursor in the “redicle,” and be amazed at what happens. Next, crank it using the dropdown from the initial 250 words per minute up to 600 wpm, and be amazed at what happens all over again. Feeling frisky? Try it in German. Somehow, after watching the text at 250 wpm in English, I think I found myself actually reading in German! I’m serious! There is definitely something in this “spritzing” that has real value for teachers and students. It’s like having your car park itself: it feels like you are doing less to achieve more. Give Spritz a look–it gives a new meaning to “frictionless.”
Update: Bjorn Hedin has created a demonstration of Rapid Serial Visual Presentation (that’s right, RSVP!) in a Youtube video in response to an earlier version of this post that you can find, with his and other comments, at the E-Book Educators Group Ning here.
Bjorn also links to a paper he co-authored about RSVP and its effect on the reading experience of different kinds of readers. You can read the paper here.
Stay tuned for the next installment, wherein we look at another service that promises to make reading better.
Have you tried Spritz? What do you think of its potential in the classroom?