Future Tense

Instapaper Joins the Slow Creep of Speed Reading

Instapaper, the reader app that lets you save Web pages and look at them later, released a new feature on Thursday called Speed Reading. Starting today, users can speed-read 10 articles per month for free, and premium users can do infinite speed-reading on their mobile devices. The feature joins a growing group of speed-reading software that’s pushing the limit of how much content we can consume.

Instapaper offers speed reading as an option within its “action icon” on mobile as well as in its navigation bar on desktop. All you have to do to start blazing through all those articles you (optimistically) saved on the train yesterday is hit the “Speed” button and watch the words fly by. In a blog post, the company explains that this speed-reading approach is called rapid serial visual presentation (RSVP). It’s “meant to help you eliminate subvocalization, that voice in the back of your mind repeating words as you read them, and reduce time lost scanning between words. The result is a more focused, faster reading experience,” the company writes.

Researchers have been studying RSVP for years, and it does seem to significantly increase reading speed, by eliminating the need for eye movement. But the research also indicates that comprehension can decline as reading pace increases. At some point there starts to be a tradeoff between speed and understanding.

The Instapaper feature is reminiscent of software from the speed-reading company Spritz, which started licensing its product for inclusion in other apps and services last year. There’s also the app Spreeder, and others too, that have similar functionality. Instapaper developed its speed-reading capabilities in-house, but the goal of bringing instant reading-speed improvements to any user who wants them seems similar.

On Slate last year, Jim Pagels wrote of Spreeder, “My dependency on this application is so great that print text now seems difficult to focus on, and I find myself seeking out ebooks rather than print ones so that I can feed them into Spreeder.”

Maybe it’s all an elaborate conspiracy to hook us on speed reading so we can … OK, yeah, it’s probably just a cool app feature.