Jack Uldrich
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Is It Time To Unlearn How We Read?

Posted in Creativity, Culture, Design, Education, General, Publishing

Reading. Most of us do it every day and it is so ingrained from such an early age that it is difficult Live ink to imagine that there is another way of doing it. Yet, there is.

Last summer, I had the opportunity to sit down with Adam Gordon, the vice president of marketing for Live Ink, to discuss his company’s revolutionary new technology—Live Ink.

Before explaining the technology, let me ask you a simple question: Have you ever wondered why we read the way we do? That is, why do we read words in block text—such as you are doing at this very moment.

I am no historical scholar but I suspect the answer goes back thousands of years and it was dependent on writers (and publishers) need to make efficient use of limited resources. First, stone tablets; then papyrus and, ultimately, pulp-based paper.

In much the same way that the QWERTY keyboard has become the de facto manner in which we interact with computers —even though it has been demonstrated that there are more efficient and faster methods of typing — the same can be said for how we read. But instead of dealing with one hundred years of established tradition—as in the case of QWERTY keyboard—printed text in block form has been around since Johannes Gutenberg printed off his first bible.

In the near future, however, the resistance to this long-held paradigm could begin to fade. I am not suggesting that printed block text will fade away overnight, but a convergence of technologies have now created an environment in which a different method for how we can access the written word has been created.

Before I go any further let me first invite you to view a visual demonstration of Live Ink’s technology here. In its simpliest form, Live Ink displays text in shorter lines; breaks the text into grammatically meaningful segments; and then indents the text to cue the brain to key phrases within a given sentence.

What immediately appealed to me about Live Ink’s technology was the notion that written text as it was historically formatted was not optimized for the human brain. In other words, while it is true that we can read long line-by-line text that does not imply that it is necessarily the best way for the human eye to operate or for the human mind to comprehend written information.

Until recently there wasn’t much that could be done about this shortcoming. To make books compact and conserve limited resources, it helped to cram as many words onto a page as possible. Today, however, as ever more people access digital information on the Web; from their cellphones; Kindle-like electronic books; and, soon, other flexible electronic media, it will make sense to display information not as “we have always done it,” but rather in a manner that is easiest, fastest and allows us to retain the most information.  First, the publishing industry will have to unlearn its reliance on block text.

Live Ink executives don’t make any claims that their technology improves the rate at which people read; they have, however, documented how their technology dramatically increases reading comprehension rates and eases strain on the eye.

I cannot often say with a strong conviction that I have seen the future; but, in the case of Live Ink, I truly believe I have seen the future of reading. Within a year or so, I fully expect my website—and thousands of others—to begin placing a widget on their site which will allow readers to access written information in a new, faster and more efficient manner.

2 thoughts on “Is It Time To Unlearn How We Read?”

  1. Lonny Eachus says:

    While this is very interesting, I am personally not convinced that this is actually an improvement on block text, mainly because it relies on a (likely) flawed assumption, and that is that people read text sequentially.
    It has been shown that the brain typically takes in text in chunks, and the chunks can be much larger than what Live Ink puts on a single line. For example, my chunks tend to be about the size of half of one of the lines of the article above, which is longer than the chunks that Live Ink puts on the screen. Not to mention that their rules for division into chunks and indentation are puzzling to me. Therefore, Live Ink actually slows my reading time down considerably.
    Speed readers have been shown to take in larger chunks in a glance.
    I am basing this on older research. Live Ink may actually have something here. But based on that older research, and my own experience with Live Ink’s samples… well, as I say, I am not convinced.

  2. Jack Uldrich says:

    As you know, I’m always open to alternative explanations. But I think you are probably on to something in that the Live Ink format may be optimized for “the average” reader. In other words, the process might work well for the majority — but not all — readers.
    If I speak with the Live Ink CEO again, I’ll pose your question to him.

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