I read the article at my usual slow pace, whatever it is, backing up sometimes to re-read sentences or check the first reference of a name. And I had a flashback to an eighth-grade class that was an experiment in speed reading.
I've always loved to read, but I hated that class, in which a machine forced us through the words and I performed horribly on comprehension tests. I never understood how faster could be better if I only barely had an inkling about what I'd read.
The WSJ article confirmed what I'd learned about speed reading back then: As rates climb, comprehension declines. This doesn't change in the new mobile speed-reading apps, which present one word at a time rapidly ("rapid serial visual presentation," or RSVP). "RSVP hurts comprehension because it doesn't let people look back at previous words," said a professor who has studied the new technology.
In addition to the comprehension, I would add that speed reading reduces appreciation for language and nuance. Think our national discourse is bad now? Just wait until speed readers are reacting to something that they only half understand!
Mostly, though, I find speed reading insulting as a writer. It's like the tour group that buzzes through the Louvre in an hour. "Oh, yeah, I've seen the Mona Lisa." Really? I have my doubts.
Spinning this into the future, I see this zip-through reading reinforcing the self-centeredness that our technology is already bringing us. As we fail to understand what others are saying, our social bonds and community experience will mean less and less.
Ha! So speed reading equals the breakdown of society! What do you think about that? Or did you read this blog so fast that you didn't understand that?