Let’s Ruin Reading for Everyone!

Is there anything technology can’t fuck up? If there is, wait five minutes. Someone will come up with an app for that.

There have been a couple of articles about the lost art of reading that have recently come to my attention. The common thread was that they amounted to two different technological “solutions” for the slow, tedious process of looking at the written word and absorbing it.

The first is Hemingway, a piece of software designed to streamline your prose by pinpointing things like style, complexity and individuality and recommending you cut that shit out. Although it was named for Hemingway, the author of this NPR article quickly discovered the app’s disdain for Ernest when some of his writing was plugging in for a quickie-computer rewrite. The results, concluded the reporter, were an improvement on the work of one of the most celebrated scribes of the 20th century – presumably because it turned his prose into something closer to literary Pablum. It was easier to swallow, bland and tasteless, and required little effort to digest.

HemingwaypunchI’d like to think Hemingway would respond by getting liquored up and punching this NPR flunky in the face.

Okay, now that we’ve ironed out all the bumps and surgically extracted the heart and soul of a piece of writing, how can we cram it down our gullet even faster?

I’m so glad (and dismayed) that you asked.

The Spritz app is designed to force your brain to absorb text much faster than normal reading speed. It’s like speed reading, but with a knife to your throat and your eyes pried open Clockwork-Orange style. Individual words are flashed at you, each with a single letter highlighted in red (presumably to keep you focused) at adjustable speeds that range from painful to tortuous.

Looking at the fastest setting gave me an instant headache. You couldn’t have given me a headache any faster if you’d hit me in the head with a lead pipe. It lingered all day after only about ten seconds of exposure. But it certainly worked. I could read fast. Extremely fast. And it was a horrible, unpleasant experience.

But maybe that’s the point. Hemingway tells us that the written word must be uniform and streamlined, while Spritz shows us that reading is a painful experience best rushed through and ended quickly. These technological innovations expose reading as a burden that should be glossed over and dismissed. Words are not something to sit with, absorb and think about. Language and nuance are for pansies. Books must be downloaded into our brains as quickly and efficiently as possible. It’s all about speed. Comprehension is optional – undesirable even. In the time you waste thinking about one book, you could have flown through three more.

As for short stories, articles or, heaven forfend, blog posts, you better be able to swallow that disposable crap in the blink of an eye. You have places to be, important things to do, other apps to download and install to run and ruin your life.

In fact, why the hell are you still here reading this? Shouldn’t you be done already?

If you’re one of those philistines who still clings to reading fiction and wallowing in words, you might be interested in two more of my short stories slated to appear in upcoming anthologies.

“Young Turks and Old Wives” will be part of Locked and Loaded: Both Barrels Vol. 3 from One Eye Press. It’s out in November.

“Choke the Chicken” is to be featured in The Exile Book of New Canadian Noir. That will come out sometime in 2015.

More details will appear here once we’re closer to the release dates or, more importantly, I have sexy cover art to show off. Until then, you can check out this cool fantasy mock-up for Canadian Noir that one of the writers threw together on a lark.

If you’re sold on the idea that everything must be high tech, I’m sure both collections will be available as ebooks for various tablets and devices and electronic doodads. Or you can curl up with these books the old-fashioned physical way. Order a copy or buy one at a book store – provided you can still find one of those antiquated archaeological dig-sites on a map.

Those of you interested in reading character-based crime fiction but are unwilling to invest more than five seconds at a time may want to check out 140 Notorious Characters. The genre is Twitter Noir and the project has just passed the half-way point. All the tweets are ultimately collected here, but you can also enjoy the twice-daily updates as they spill out of my brain, fresh and offensive, by following me on Twitter.

 

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