Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Reading at x1.5 Speed

I am a strong advocate that while we can live busy lives we do not have to live hurried one. Technology is to be embraced to make our lives better, it does not make us its slave. There are many ways to read a book. As a famous British philosopher Sir Roger Bacon once said,

 Some books are to be tasted, others to be swallowed, and some few to be chewed and digested: that is, some books are to be read only in parts, others to be read, but not curiously, and some few to be read wholly, and with diligence and attention

 What he was saying was that not all books are to be treated as equal. Hence the way we approach and read them should be tailored to their value. I often interpret that he also implied the reading speed. This is only an implication as most readers in Sir Roger’s time read moving their lips. Hence, the speed at which they read is limited by how fast they can mouth the words. It is only in the late 19th and 20th Century do we read without moving our lips. We do appreciate what he is saying that some books are to be read slowly to savour them, while others deserve to be skimmed through. Modern ‘speed reading’ is mainly skimming.

Recently, technology has introduced us to the audio books and videos. Videos are a form of visual books. Now, freed from being bound to a single locale, I can listen to audio books while driving, doing housework or exercising. I also watch videos while on my treadmill. Aside from providing this means, technology also provided an interesting trick. The speed I can listen or watch these books.

Now I find that I can adjust the speed at which I listen to audiobooks or watch a video. With a hardcopy book, how fast I read is dependent on my ability to read and comprehend. With audio and video, the delivery may be adjusted to my receiving and comprehension speed. I find that listening at x1.5 speed, my comprehension is as good as listening at x1.0 speed. This is the same for watching videos. Of course, I can always adjust to x0.5 speed when I find the text difficult to understand, repeat and replay. In video, I can speed through the hesitation between the speaker’s words. Now I can listen to more books and watch more videos than before! For audiobooks, I normally use x1.5 for nonfiction and x2.0 for fiction. For videos, I use x2.0 for lectures and sermons and x1.5 for movies.

When books are made easily available by the technology Gutenberg printing press, we read by moving our lips as we read word by word. With training, we are able to read faster by skimming. Now with digital technology, we are able to read faster audio and visual books. Do not be alarmed by this. 

Actually, the art of reading is not the speed but getting the main thesis or message of the book whatever the format. I will estimate that 80% of any book is padding and the gem is in the 20% if we can find it. The 20% contains the heart of the whole book. It does not matter at whatever speed we read, only that we discover this gem at the heart of the book. If we then we slow down to savour, reflect, and assimilate, then we would have read that book well.


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