And it could, if done right. Even those of us who read really fast max out at around 600 words per minute. This is a result of what is known as saccadic eye movement. When we read, only a very small part of the retina, known as the fovea, is used, so as we read a line of text (and it doesn’t matter if you’re reading left to right, right to left, or top to bottom), your eye makes small jerks, saccades, to read the new text (if you have a video camera handy, record yourself reading this post.
Nekkid. Your eyes will jerk several times per line).
The problem I have with Kindle (and other readers) is that the disadvantages of the technology for me (and it’s ok if you disagree!) haven’t outweighed the advantages (especially since both the library and a really good used book store are a block away from me). But what if there were a way for technology to help you read faster?
Consider what two researchers discovered nearly two decades ago (italics mine):
To assess the limitation on reading speed imposed by saccadic eye movements, we measured reading speed in 13 normally-sighted observers using two modes of text presentations: PAGE text which presents an entire passage conventionally in static, paragraph format, and rapid serial visual presentation (RSVP) which presents text sequentially, one word at a time at the same location in the visual field. In Expt 1, subjects read PAGE and RSVP text orally across a wide range of letter sizes (2X to 32X single-letter acuity) and reading speed was computed from the number of correct words read per minute. Reading speeds were consistently faster for RSVP compared to PAGE text at all letter sizes tested. The average speeds for text of an intermediate letter size (8X acuity) were 1171 words/min for RSVP and 303 words/min for PAGE text. In Expt 2 subjects read PAGE and RSVP text silently and a multiple-choice comprehension test was administered after each passage. All subjects continued to read RSVP text faster, and 6 subjects read at the maximum testable rate (1652 words/min) with at least 75% correct on the comprehension tests. Experiment 3 assessed the minimum word exposure time required for decoding text using RSVP to minimize potential delays due to saccadic eye movement control. Successive words were presented for a fixed duration (word duration) with a blank interval (ISI) between words. The minimum word duration required for accurate oral reading averaged 69.4 msec and was not reduced by increasing ISI. We interpret these results as an indication that the programming and execution of saccadic eye movements impose an upper limit on conventional reading speed.
In other words, most readers read out loud four times as fast if the words, on a screen, were presented in the same location. In some cases, while reading silently, some readers were able to comprehend at least 1600 words per minute. For some perspective, this post is 550 words long. Could you have possibly read it in twenty seconds? And no cheating–the abstract too?
If Kindle let me read faster, I would be very interested.
And, of course, I expect Our Benevolent Seed Overlords to change to this format immediately….
Cited article: Rubin, G.S., & K. Turano. 1992. Reading without saccadic eye movements. Vision Res. 32:895-902.