A quick read

Cory Doctorow, a science fiction novelist, also happens to be the most prolific of the gang behind powerblog BoingBoing. He’s just released a new book, Eastern Standard Tribe, and made the full text available online.

I can’t vouch for the book, but from another site I came across an intriguing way to read it. I can’t imagine sitting down and reading an entire book online; like a lot of people, I’m waiting for the day when some kind of electronic paper gets damn close to the real thing. But a guy named Trevor Smith has adapted a speed reading application so that you can watch the words fly by one at a time. Herewith, the Speed Reader version of Eastern Standard Tribe. (Incidentally, I couldn’t get this applet to run on Internet Explorer, but it seemed to work fine on Mozilla.) It’s a really simple concept. You set the speed, and the words appear and disappear one after another. It sounds like a recipe for a headache, but you can train your brain to manage it fairly quickly. The applet itself is really primitive, but hey! you don’t often come across an entirely new way to read. Even so, I could only tolerate for a few minutes.

I learned about Smith’s reader from Joe Gregorio’s BitWorking blog. He had some interesting thoughts about the experience of computer-mediated speed reading:

At first it’s a very disorienting experience, you have no context for the words, no indication of page or paragraph, and I had to start at a slow speed. After a while my eyes and brain got used to it and I was able to crank up the speed, which is where things get counter-intuitive, the faster I went, the smoother the reading went. … I read the entire book in about 2 hours. … The oddest part of reading a book this way is how it feels. Hard to describe except to say that if feels like to goes into a different part of the brain than if you read it on paper.

It makes me think of that Woody Allen joke: “I took a course in speed reading and was able to read War and Peace in twenty minutes. It’s about Russia.”

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