In this next installment of software lifehacks, I will be talking about a topic near and dear to my heart (while also stubbornly evasive since it is a difficult skill to master): speedreading.
Here’s an article where information overload is actually the relevant topic (a reference to my page on a prior segment of the software reviews, f.lux). Whether we are:
a) browsing research papers and documentation on the job,
b) browsing Reddit on the job,
c) flipping through the latest literary masterpieces at Barnes and Noble,
d) browsing Reddit off work,
or whatever, we’re continuously bombarded with information. Knowledge is power; as absolute power corrupts absolutely, absolute knowledge or omniscience makes one look like a giant pretentious douchebag. Still, to gain all that knowledge before we find ourselves in the lovely world of diapers, dentures, dementia, drool and discharge bequeathed to us by old age, we must master the art of speedreading.
A dual-faceted skill, speedreading not only necessitates a rapid progression of attention from one blob of characters to the next, but an equally fast comprehension, retention, and storage procedure. I don’t need to instruct you on proper use of search engine technology to find tutorials on improving your speedreading capabilities, although I may feature an article on the topic someday if I become proficient enough to offer advice.
For now, though, I will vouch for the browser plugin called Squirt (don’t worry, despite the name, this won’t end in an underhanded redirect to a NSFW site. I promise. You also don’t need instruction in blocking and / or reaching those sites yourself. However, innuendos are fair game here).
So what is Squirt? Put simply, it’s a black-box type tool to convert any webpage you are viewing into a stream of words, projected one by one on the screen in the exact same position (the horizontal center of the browser window) and at a user-specified pace defined in words per minute (WPM). You’ll likely grasp the advantage that this information-absorbing modality carries, namely, saving your eyes from passing back and forth following lines of text across the screen. Instead, you become the garbage can recipient of a relentless fountain of black, serif knowledge-vomit making a direct beeline for your brain.
Wonderful, Bill, now that a vivid image of the Internet tossing its cookies at me (har har, very pucking punny) is cemented in my mind, why don’t you grace me more with your anecdotal experience with this plugin? Glad you asked! I started off with Squirting by first gauging where my reading speed was at – this entailed maxing the WPM meter and wondering …
… just how in the honest-to-god !@#$ does someone absorb anything from such a display of pyroclastic puke before having a seizure?
The answer is practice, lots and lots of practice. I’m trying to work my way through the 300s of WPM. It’s tough, at least for me. Think something like the opening scene of Robot Chicken: eventually you’ll become a clucking, all-knowing cyborg after strapping yourself down in front of your laptop with your eyes pried wide open 24/7 taking in feeds of news articles. Though if you can master multiple screens at once, why are you even on this blog, you goddamn robot?
In any case, it’s worth your time to pick up Squirt, available as a plugin (well, technically a bookmarklet, oh gee let’s all be freaking pedantic now) for Google Chrome as well as Firefox and Safari. A couple points:
First, it’s delightfully simple to use, as you just click the button on your bookmarks bar when you navigate to a page you’d wish to have Squirted into your face.
Second, it has been known to glitch out in my experience by spewing out undecipherable HTML tags and other behind-the-scenes nonsense. If that happens, don’t fret. You haven’t reached a heightened level of Matrix-esque existence and awareness. Your little browser buddy is just having trouble getting it up on screen. So, either just give it a cyberviagra or two by refreshing the page, or settle for regular old-school reading.
Good luck, godspeed, and happy speedreading! Hell, test it out on this post. Squirt: It just works!