Reading is dead.
The nature of books has evolved. Society and technology have changed. Forcibly, our approach to reading has taken on new forms to accommodate a different way of life.
The question is: For better or worse?
Although books give us new ideas, spark discussions, and explore topics in detail, the same information can be delivered in a variety of formats. When it comes to exactly how we should absorbing books, the debate rages on.
Let’s take a look.
The Effectiveness of Speed Reading
Since the 1950s, speed reading has been touted as an effective way to get through reading material quickly. Scientists, psychologists, and teachers have come up with methods to increase reading speed, whether through manual tools or visual movements.
At the World Championship Speed Reading Competition, top contestants can reach 1,000 to 2,000 words per minute. Six-time champion Anne Jones reached 4,200 words per minute at one point.
Those rates seem phenomenal compared to the average adult’s 300 words per minute. So then, what types of strategies are speed readers using?
Here are four common methods:
1. Skimming involves quickly going through passages to find the main points. Instead of combing each word carefully, you go over first and last paragraphs, headings, and similar cues to find key ideas. Scanning, a similar method, involves running your eyes down the text to find certain words and phrases.
2. Meta guiding uses a pointer, such as your index finger or a pen, to guide your eyes along the lines of text. A pointer helps your eyes move horizontally, focusing on the word that you should be reading.
3. Vision span method uses the span of human eyesight to read words in batches. Readers focus their eyesight on one central word, and then use their peripheral vision to see adjacent words. By relying on our peripherals, it’s believed that we can read about five words at once.
4. Rapid serial visual representation (RSVP) is a more recent technique where an electronic reading system displays words one at a time. You can choose the speed at which the words show up on the screen.
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In the comprehensive book Psychology of Reading, Keith Rayner dismisses speed reading techniques. He explains that we’re constrained by the anatomy of our eyes and the ability of our brains to process information. While some techniques aim to eliminate the process of sounding words in our head to save time (otherwise known as subvocalization), Rayner states that our memory and comprehension levels decrease dramatically.
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According to research, paper books have certain advantages over other formats. For one, readers have a better sense of progression when they can physically flip through pages. This progression also contributes to greater memory retention. Also, paper books act as effective sleeping aids, since they don’t emit the blue light that electronic devices do.
The other advantage to traditional books is a more personal preference. Some people like the feeling of paper. The pulpy smell, the weighty feeling, and the ability to flip through the pages enhance the reading experience. The drawback behind paper books, though, is that they’re often heavier and more inconvenient to carry around than other types of reading formats.
The greatest advantage e-books offer is convenience. Whether you carry one book or a hundred makes no difference in weight. This is useful for traveling, especially if you want more reading options. E-books also provide a sense familiarity, as we become accustomed to electronic devices such as smartphones and tablets.
The big issue around e-readers, however, is the blue light effect. In one study, researchers found that people who read light emitting e-readers took longer to fall asleep than those who read paper books. Readers who used devices such as tablets, laptops, smartphones, and backlit readers reduced their levels of melatonin, a hormone that increases in the evenings and induces sleepiness. As a result, they experienced low-quality sleep and were tired the next morning.
The good news is that e-ink readers, such as the Kindle, are an exception. These devices emit light towards the screen to cast a glow, rather than directly shining a light towards the reader’s eyes. The resulting effect is similar to a lamp shining onto a paper book.
There is some skepticism behind audio, as some people feel that it doesn’t provide the same level of immersion as reading. A study notes that you can absorb information almost as well through audio as reading (whether they’re fully equal is another topic of debate). In some cases, the narrator’s tone can even help listeners to better understand the meaning behind texts.
The issue with audio, though, is that humans are prone to multi-tasking. If you’re typing up an email or cooking a meal while listening to the narrator, the message can become lost. Personally, I like using audiobooks when I’m less likely to be distracted, such as when waiting around or going for a walk.
Lately, speeding through audiobooks has become popular. Some people zip through a book at 2x, or sometimes even 3x the regular speed. While they claim that no information is lost, should we be approaching material this way?
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Although people are increasingly reading in short spurts, the benefits from “deep reading” are lost in the process. Reading in long periods helps the reader to enter a state similar to a hypnotic trance, in which the experience is most enjoyable.
Interestingly, the reading rate actually slows down. In this state, the reader quickly decodes words while keeping a gradual pace, heightening the understanding and relationship between author and reader.
Link to the rest at Medium