Why you shouldn't speed read
Note: I've had this post sitting around for a while and in light of Scott Young's recent post (be sure to check it out), I thought it appropriate to publish.
What is reading?
To wit, reading is decoding small pictures (letters, who by themselves are of not much use) which are constructed into groups(words) that describe an object or concept. These groups of pictures(words) are then strung together in a systematic way(sentences) which have complex propositions.
Alternatively, reading is visually listening to the thoughts of someone else.
Why I don't like speed reading:
A lot Self-improvement websites are full of ways and reasons to speed read. I personally don't find it very effective for learning and retention. Here are my reasons:
- The biggest peril of speed-reading is mistaking reading for absorbing/learning. Because you have read something does not mean you understood it. It's the visual equivalent of hearing, but not listening. Sadly, I think one of the biggest reasons for the popularity of speed-reading is to do with what Von Goethe called the Velocopedic Age; one determined by speed, which he feared would deaden the human spirit. James Gleick describes this at length in his excellent book Faster.
- The brain can only absorb and encode so much information per unit time, even when reading at a leisurely pace. Speed reading surpasses this thresh-hold which leads to not absorbing a lot of what you read; a shameful waste.
- One of the keys to speed-reading is to STOP sub-vocalising. I think sub-vocalising is very useful for retention, especially when you know how the author sounds. I like to read the books of my favourite authors by sub-vocalising with their voice, the more distinctive their voice, the better. Richard Dawkins, Brian Cox, Robert Sapolsky, Steven Hawking. If you don't know what they sound like then use your own inner-voice. Alternatively, develop a storehouse of voices you like. I use Brian Blessed, Rik Mayall, Ade Edmundson or Bootsy Collins' voice when reading passages from unknown authors or online articles, I think this engages the mind even more.
- Reading at your regular/slower speeds allows time for visualisation. Another great way to increase absorption and retention I find, is to visualise or conceptualise as much as possible when you are reading. Imagine reading Rick James' autobiography and visualising yourself being right there with him whilst he's nasally inhaling cocaine in a bedroom full of Hollywood actors and groupies; now that's a rich reading experience.
- Speed reading is a skill which takes time to practice, this detracts from time reading at a comfortable pace and absorbing more of what you read.
With the above said, speed reading - for me - has a little bit of utility:
- It's useful for reading very small, information-sparse pieces. From a sentence to a small paragraph.
- It's useful for scanning for key words and pieces of information in a pinch.
- It's useful for reading an article or book somebody has suggested you read, where high retention is not necessarily important.
- It's useful for getting a feel for the content of a particular book in which you're deciding to purchase or read thoroughly.