Rapid Serial Visual Processing and Firefox

by F.

I’ve always found reading sort of annoying. It’s too slow. You have to actually look at each word. I just want the information to go into my brain, without having to perform annoying eye movement exercises. Yeah, I’ve tried speed reading (I took a course in high school), but they seem more like educated guessing or skimming to me.

I’ve known about the concept of Rapid Visual Serial Processing (RSVP) for years, but it’s finally cheap and available. The basic idea is that one word is flashed on a screen at a time. You don’t need to move your eyes. You just sit there and take it all in.

JSReader is an extension for Firefox that allows you to do this with almost any text. It’s great for reading newspapers and stuff online. You just go to the page, select the text you want presented, and hit play. BOOM. Here it comes, as fast as the mind can take it—maybe faster. Speed can be adjusted up and down, as can font size of the presentation. Click on this little jpg for a screenshot:


Now, usually, we read at around 200-250 WPM if we’re decent readers. With this thing, 400 WPM is easy. I’ve been moving up and up and up on the speedometer—slowly, of course, increasing the speed a little each week. I can get up to around 700-800 WPM with decent comprehension now (subjectively measured, of course). The more I know about the topic, the faster I can go, of course, because I don’t need to process as much information.

Is it a substitute for regular reading? Probably not. Comprehension seems to suffer, from what I’ve been able to find out (Google on “Rapid Serial Visual Processing” for more). But it’s much more effective than skimming. You can read a whole issue of The Economist in a fraction of the time it normally takes.