Bionic Reading: is faster really better or are we missing the point?

Swiss typography expert Renato Casutt has developed an app that claims to support more efficient learning by revising any passage of text into a version that’s easier to digest.

Text is transformed (like in this paragraph) so that certain words are highlighted to help your brain absorb the information more efficiently.

What do you think? Do you feel like this is easier to read?

In our fast-paced world there’s no shortage of techniques, methods, and tools that claim to save us time, or allow us to work more effectively. It’s understandable. We’re exposed to relentless streams of information, and many of us are under pressure, feeling there are not enough hours in the day to cover everything that needs to be done. And when those hours do come, we often find it hard to quieten the brain and concentrate.

Bionic reading seeks to address these issues using a combination of typography and technology to make reading ‘faster, better, and more focussed’. Based on the idea that the brain reads faster than the eye, the app supports the reading flow by guiding the reader through the text using a customised sequence of typographic highlights. By fixating on only part of each word, the idea is that we can save time and simplify the process.

The app has gained attention and many fans, some of whom have been particularly vocal online about how it has helped them ‘finally get through a book’, or even ‘unlock 100% of their brain’. However, despite the viral popularity and rave reviews, not everyone is convinced by the concept.

People have been teaching speed reading for decades, but the jury is still out on whether faster is necessarily better. For example, when you read too quickly it can have a negative impact on comprehension. You’re also more likely to end up having to re-read the text again to understand what you just read, ultimately cancelling out any time saving benefits at all.

However, whether Bionic reading is effective or not may very well be missing the point entirely.  Perhaps we should instead be asking ourselves, ‘why?’.

Why must we aspire to do everything faster? Why are we struggling to focus? If the aim is to increase our reading abilities in a noisy and hectic environment, maybe we would be better off changing the noisy and hectic environment rather than altering the words on the page. Perhaps only then can we rediscover the joy of reading for pleasure, rather than for speed.