There are lots of good things to write about, so it is with
despondent irony that I write about something so negative. The something in question is Spritz, a new app or computer
program or something that force-feeds written material to you at a frenetic,
nauseating pace of 300-500 words per minute (wpm). The average reading rate for a well-read
adult stands at 220 wpm, so this represents a staggering 36-114 percent increase in the
speed that words are flying from the page—er, screen—to your brain.
The creators of Spritz claim that this technology will
revolutionize the world, make you a better person, improve your love life, etc.
It certainly will change things if it catches on and becomes widely used. If the boundless exuberance
I see on my social media feeds is any indicator, people plan to finally
“read” all the books they’ve been lying about having read for all these years.
I put “read” in scare quotes because after watching a sample feed of words at
300, 400, and 500 wpm, I simply cannot buy that anyone who
chokes down The Great Gatsby, Lolita, or Infinite Jest on Spritz will have
learned a thing. They might be able to name characters, outline the plot,
even talk about what they liked and didn’t like, but the sweeping impressionism
of Fitzgerald’s prose or the obsessive detail of Wallace’s asinine footnotes
and re-references will be entirely lost on these phony one-word-at-a-time readers.
During my brief demo of the program, I was almost unable to
worry about any of its societal implications because my brain was teetering
dangerously close to epilepsy. The words whir by so quickly that, though the
app does work better than I’d like to admit, it feels like some sort of
unsustainable warp speed that will, eventually, fail catastrophically when the
center ceases to hold. After reading about five sentences at 500 wpm, I
needed a breather—which led me to miss two more sentences. I wonder what
happens if you have to sneeze or write down a favorite line (not that you can
pick favorites when you can’t see the sentences).
By sterilizing the reading experience in this way, we are
dehumanizing ourselves. Humans are unique in the elaborateness of our written
and spoken languages, our artistic endeavors that are completely unrelated to survival,
and our hellish bent toward self-destructive progress.
From nuclear weapons to
hyperconnectivity to reading sans fun, we are remarkably proficient at taking
our good ideas several steps too far. Harnessing atoms to make energy out of
nothing seems wise, especially with our insatiable appetites for electricity
and the finite amount of coal and crude available to us. Connecting all
corners of the world has obvious advantages. Helping people who wouldn’t otherwise read at all dig into the classics is a noble cause.
yet, somewhere along the way, these causes have all become perverted. We make energy
out of nothing to level nations or mutually assure one another that destruction is imminent. We are so connected that walking peaceably down a
quiet street and being wholly present in our daily lives seems as quaintly
archaic as black-and-white video footage of a soda parlor.
And now, we are
bent on eradicating the frustrating, relaxing, challenging, rewarding endeavor
that is reading a good book. I wonder when Beethoven’s complete canon will be
compressed into a minute-long ultradensesupertechnowünder sound bite or when
every Picasso painting will be downloadable straight to your hippocampus via
This is not technophobic or dystopian radicalism. It is a not-so-far-fetched
look at what might happen soon, and, more importantly, a sincere “why?” What do
we gain by “knowing” great works of art if we haven’t engaged with them?
might be a hint of democracy to downloading the Mona Lisa, since traveling to Paris
is not exactly free, but everyone knows what she looks like. The pilgrimage to
Napoleon’s great pillage that is the Louvre is as beautiful an experience as
sitting on a blanket on the beach for three hours and reading barely 90 pages of Steinbeck’s densest storytelling. If we crush these slow joys and
miniature (or major) vacations out of our lives in favor of efficiency, what
will we do with the time we save?
I could answer “get in more training time for triathlons” or
“spend more time with people I love.” But how long until those things are
somehow condensed too? Until we learn to (re)value the process—be it of
creating or appreciating art, of building, repairing, or maintaining—we are going
to watch the uniquely human aspects of our lives get marginalized until artificial intelligence is
not so Hollywood anymore.
This version is not about robots becoming
convincingly human, but about us forgetting how to turn wrenches—and pages. After all, things are only
enjoyable because they are counterbalanced by other things. (There is a
mechanical analogy here, but it is likely lost on everybody because our cars
are too complex to bother understanding anymore.) Moderation is the key to
savoring anything at all.
The complexity of all our gadgetry has created a unique problem
that could fill volumes of books, were they still being printed and sold en
masse. Technology has become so good and improvements come about so quickly
(cheers, Gordon Moore) that rather than maintaining it or learning how it
works, we use it until it becomes obsolete, often in less than
I’m not standing on a
Luddite soapbox or arguing against inevitability. Some things we cannot
change or resist. But as long as we keep creating demand for great literature,
keep constructing architectural triumphs filled with artistic masterpieces, and
keep putting pockets in our pants and shelves in our homes to stash our
smartphones for a few minutes, we will maintain a degree of resistance to the
fierce force of homogeneity behind technological “advances.”
something printed on paper, be it a newspaper article or even 10 pages of a
great book. Walk outside for 20 minutes without checking our phones. Go to
an art museum. Dedicate ourselves daily anew. Something like that.
John Montesi CM’14 is a literature major from Fort Worth, TX.