…is big business. With the enormous amount of information we’re exposed to in today’s digital world, just to keep our heads above water we have to take in more, and do it more quickly.
There are dozens of speed-reading courses across the UK – and it’s big business in the US. People are even developing online technology that flashes words at you on screen to make you read at a certain pace, as John Walsh has discussed in The Independent.
But there’s a growing concern among neurologists and other researchers that our constant multi-tasking (we’ve all been there: trying to email, talk on the phone and finish off a report at the same time) is taking its toll on our concentration and attention span. In other words, we may be taking in more, but our grasp of it isn’t always great.
Sound familiar? How many times have you glanced through an email and missed a vital piece of information? Or skimmed through a customer letter and missed a key point? Sacrificing thoroughness for speed can cause all sorts of headaches down the line.
But the main problem I have with speed-reading is that it requires you to take in whole chunks of information at a glance instead of reading from the start to finish of sentences. And in doing this you completely miss the sound and rhythm of the words.
This makes it impossible to pick up on tone or to appreciate the poetry of something that’s particularly well written. It’s the equivalent of stuffing as much food down your throat as you can in five minutes, instead of taking it one mouthful at a time and tasting each bite.
It may sound like an oxymoron, but life’s just too short to speed read.
Update: In July The Guardian published an article on the Slow Reading Movement saying, among other things, that we’re losing our ability to read entire articles and even books because of how we ‘read’ online.