On digital devices, there is limited ‘screen real estate,’ a fact that often makes reading difficult, with all the scrolling, swiping and repositioning of text. So isn’t there a better way to read on today’s gadgets, rather than the traditional approach, word-by-word and left to right? “Our way of reading was invented long before we had these technologies, so why should it fit with them?” It was this question that mechanical engineer Maik Maurer addressed with Spritz, which he says is a transformative way of delivering information that gives a new degree of freedom on devices. Whether it’s a news item or an email, Spritz processes the text so it is flashed in a type of slide show that eliminates the need for inefficient eye movement from word to word. Maurer, co-founder and chief technology officer of the Boston start-up, doesn’t like to call it speed reading, but a more efficient and quicker way to scan content, while still being able to absorb and understand complex information. Spritz is offered as a software development kit to websites, applications, and mobile apps. Maurer spoke with Globe correspondent Cindy Atoji Keene about the development of Spritz.
“Spritz is a tool that focuses you and makes it difficult to look away from the words in a text. I use Spritz to read scientific studies that I really do not enjoy digesting but I must read to stay up-to-date. I usually get easily distracted – I’m so glad to look somewhere else and get away from whatever journal or paper I am reviewing – so what I do now is Spritz. The words of the report are quickly flashed at the optimal point in front of me, making it difficult to look away and get preoccupied with something else. Spritz is not meant to replace conventional reading, but rather it is an extension of reading. You would not use it on a Sunday afternoon sitting with a hardcover book in front of the fireplace but maybe to quickly browse through web pages on your mobile device. Reading is a very traditional methodology, and like anything, when there is a new technology or approach, there is always some skepticism. But from what we know so far, Spritz comprehension is equal to conventional reading, especially within your ‘Goldilocks zone,’ or optimal reading speed; too slow is too robotic and too fast affects comprehension. I am not a native English speaker so my optimal Spritzing speed, 350, is lower than most, although in German it is 400. We are working on algorithms to improve Spritzfying the text in different languages for which the cadence or timing is not always the same. Of course, the gamification of Spritz has occurred and some users try to compete to read faster and faster – up to 950 or 1000 words a minute – but they are missing the point. New research data is coming that will provide a solid base of scientific data that shows that Spritz compels faster reading without sacrificing comprehension. I haven’t had the leisure time to read a good book lately, as I moved my family over here from Germany and have so much work to do, but I do Spritz my emails on my smart watch, especially with the cold weather. I can see at a glance what the email says and follow up with important ones later.”