Reading is no longer a leisure activity—it's an on-the-go activity that requires speed and less attention. That's why speed reading apps are growing in popularity. As smartphones and tablets increasingly take over the traditional book market, reading skills need to be adjusted accordingly, so you can cram in 5 pages in-between texts and emails.
Who wouldn't want to read up to 1,000 words per minute, anyway?
However, you might not want to download any speed reading apps just yet, because they are actually messing with your eyes—and your mind.
Speed reading apps claim to improve both your reading and material consumption speeds, allowing you to breeze through War and Peace in two hours rather than two years. Unfortunately, they're offering empty promises, and don't apply to the real world.
Words move around the page in documents and books, forcing your eyes to work considerably harder than they do within an app. So the speed gained within an app is lost when readers cannot stare at a quick succession of words in the exact same spot.
There is one bit of truth to these claims, though. When using an app, you will be able to knock out an entire book in a short period of time. You will literally read only the words on the page, but nothing else.
One of the biggest downfalls of speed reading apps is the way in which they force you to focus your eyes on a fixed spot. This practice of presenting one word at a time restricts your eyes, but allows them to consume individual words quickly.
There's a reason your eyes are designed to move while you read. Utilizing speed reading apps interferes with your brain's ability to process exactly what it is that you're reading. The words in front of you are nothing more than that: just one word at a time, not sentences or paragraphs.
Without the ability to see an entire page at a time, your brain quickly consumes the words and doesn't think about the work as a whole.
Because you are only able to see one word, your eyes are unable to backtrack, or regress, as they normally would. Have you ever felt like you were re-reading the same words or lines over and over again? According to researchers, this regression is key to understanding while reading.
While reading, your eyes regress approximately 10 to 15 percent of the time. They jump back a word, phrase, or even line when your brain thinks it missed something important. This regression allows your brain to correct a failure—failure to comprehend a sentence, or to identify a word. Without the ability to move, your understanding decreases greatly.
If reading within a more "efficient" app is harmful, what about reading with the Kindle app or an e-reader?
Although it might appear that using technology while reading is detrimental, it's not all bad. Reading on a screen of any kind isn't the issue. As long as your eyes are able to roam freely, you'll be able to comprehend anything you read.
Yet, as screens grow increasingly smaller with the advent of smart watches, speed reading apps will only become more popular. Stick to screens with a surface area that allows you to see more than just a few words of the text at a time.
If you're still looking to improve your speed while reading, try a method that has nothing to do with technology. Give your brain a boost by incorporating certain foods into your diet, or work on comprehension by improving your memory with different foods.
The ability to take the time to read and re-read is key to understanding both sentences and concepts. So the next time you're tempted to speed through a book with an app, crack open a book and spend a few hours—not a few minutes—reading. Your brain and eyes will thank you.