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Reading Resources

Many people say they are too busy to learn much, or learn well. And don't have time to read books.

These same people typically don't know how to speed read. Why not? If time is the issue, why not learn speed reading and then read more? Because they are lying and the real issue is they don't want to read or learn.

Regardless, I want to discuss some aspects of how speed reading works.

The most powerful form of speed reading is RSVP. It's easier to see what it is than explain – click here. You see 1 to 5 words at a time and the computer updates them quickly.

It's very reasonably achievable to read twice as fast with RSVP compared to regular book reading. So you can read a book in 3 hours instead of 6 hours. You don't have to read many books to pay back the time invested in learning to use RSVP. Actually the time investment is pretty near zero – the best way to learn RSVP is to start using it at speeds only a little faster than your normal reading (and I'd recommend 3-4 words appearing at a time to start with, not 1), and work your way up as you practice. Since you learn while reading, it doesn't cost you any time if you were going to read anyway. It starts saving a little time right away, and a lot more later.

Reading costs resources other than time. For example, if you use RSVP to read twice as many books, and you buy your books from Amazon, you'll have to pay Amazon twice as much money. But books are cheap, I hope you'll forgive this "problem" with RSVP.

Using RSVP software requires e-books. If you have a paper book, you can't read it with RSVP. This is the biggest difficulty with RSVP due to DRM. E-books like Kindle books are easy to get and exist for many, many books. And they are typically cheaper than paper books. The problem is when trying to prevent you from giving copies of the book to your friends (or strangers), they also try to prevent you from reading the book in anything but their official software (which doesn't support RSVP). To read a book with RSVP, you need it without copy protection. So you have to read from a limited pool of free books, or use torrents or book download websites, or use software to remove the DRM. This is not hard, but unfortunately you can't just get started reading any book from Kindle in 5 minutes. It might take you a couple hours to set up DRM removal software, or half an hour to find a book downloading website or get a torrent program.

Buying e-books and removing the DRM so you can read them in your own choice of software is completely reasonable and moral. If you don't distribute the books to others, you aren't doing anything wrong. You pay for the book, and then read your book, that you own, with the software of your choice. That's it. What's wrong with that? Nothing. It also offers the best selection of books available. People should learn how to do this. It isn't very hard.

Mental Energy

So with RSVP you read a book in 3 hours instead of 6 hours. Is that harder or easier, once you know how? Easier. It leaves you less drained, less fatigued, less mentally tired. But how much easier? Since you spend half as much time reading, does that mean it takes half as much mental energy? No. For every hour using RSVP, you get more mentally tired than one hour of regular reading.

With RSVP, you get less mentally tired per page read, but more tired per minute of reading.

A rough estimate is that while you're saving 50% for time, you're only saving 25% for mental energy.

Say regular reading finishes 100 words in 100 units of time and uses up 100 units of mental energy. Then RSVP would read 100 words in 50 units of time and use up 75 units of mental energy. This is a good thing.

Busy People

Let's hypothetically suppose that RSVP used up 125 mental energy units instead of 75. Then you'd be saving time but spending more mental energy per word. Would that be good?

Certainly not for everyone. But for a lot of people, RSVP would still be very useful in that scenario. People who are low on time would still use RSVP to save time. They'd be effectively trading some mental energy for some time. They'd be converting one resource (mental energy) into another (time). If they are low on time, doing a conversion to save time is useful.

Most people, including most "busy" people, only use a fraction of their mental energy each day anyway. They've got a lot to spare. (Many will lie and say otherwise. The issue is not that they are too mentally fatigued to think more, it's really that they don't like thinking, so they say they are mentally fatigued to excuse their choice not to think much.)

But real RSVP saves both time and mental energy. That makes it such an amazing deal. It'd ridiculous that very few people use it. This is a good example of how people make huge mistakes which makes their quality of life dramatically worse.

The only real reason not to use RSVP is if you don't read. Which would be a big mistake, but for different reasons. Thinking and ideas are important! But I won't go into that here. If you want an explanation, you can read Philosophy: Who Needs It or ask at the Fallible Ideas Email Discussion Group.

Different Types of Mental Energy

There's different types of mental energy. If you get tired from reading and are too mentally fatigued to read more, you can usually still do something else, including listen to an audio book. But they aren't totally different: if you can normally comfortably read for 5 hours in a row, but first you get really tired from playing chess for 10 hours, you'll find you run out of reading mental energy faster. All that chess used up the majority of your reading energy. All sorts of different types of mental energy are linked significantly but not entirely – using one uses a lot of the other, but running out of one often doesn't completely run you out of the other.

One consequence is that if you're using mental energy for other parts of your life, and you add in some reading, this is not a zero sum game. Every bit of mental energy going to reading does not mean less mental energy for other tasks. Maybe two thirds of the mental energy for reading has to be subtracted from other tasks, but one third is a bonus.

Audio Books

Audio books make speed reading even more convenient than text books. Lots of audio book software already has an option to turn up the speed. Unfortunately a lot of software only lets you listen at 1.5x or 2x speed, even though a skilled listener can listen at 2.5x or 3x. (A lot of audio books are read very slowly, significantly slower than regular slow text reading.) Please be careful because some software labels 1.5x speed as "2x" and 2x speed as "3x". This mislabelling includes the software from Apple and Amazon (Audible). You can easily test this by playing something at "2x" for 1 minute (using a clock) from the beginning, and then see how far along you are – 90 seconds or 2 minutes in.

Audio book selection is limited, but this can be fixed with text-to-speech software such as Voice Dream Reader. (I use the "Paul" voice.) Text-to-speech software now works extremely well. The only problem is if you buy a book on Kindle with DRM, you can't read it with your own choice of software, like we talked about before. That means no RSVP and also no text-to-speech. Unless you remove the DRM, which isn't that hard.

Some people worry that text-to-speech software is harder to understand than human speech. This may have been true in the past, but it is not true today. Actually, text-to-speech is better and easier to understand at high speeds because it's 100% consistent about pronunciation and pacing. Not every single word is pronounced correctly, but most are, and they are always pronounced the same way, and you can still understand it (and if you're really bothered, you can tinker with it and fix how it pronounces words).

How do audio books compare to RSVP and regular reading? Using the same numbers as before where regular was 100/100/100 and RSVP was 100/50/75, audio book speed reading would be 100 words in 75 time using 40 mental energy (audio books without turning up the speed would be more like 100 words in 150 time using 35 mental energy, there's really no good reason to do that. once you're good at this, if you're tired you can just turn the speed down from 2.5x to 2x or something like that, and it feels very easy, there's no reason to use 1x speed).

Audio books are a great way of reading, even though they are slower than RSVP, because they are less mentally draining and still pretty fast. And it's basically free to learn to listen to audio books at higher speeds: just turn it up a little at a time and you'll learn while reading without any separate practice or training or lessons.

The other great thing about audio books is you can easily mulititask. You can easily listen to an audiobook while walking somewhere, while on public transit, while driving, while exercising, while showering (with speakers instead of headphones), or while eating. It works with some other activities too, such as playing video games, though that can require some skill if it's a hard game. Whereas to multitask an audio book with exercise basically requires no skill, anyone can do it right away.

TV and Movies

TV and movies can be watched at higher speeds to save time. Again you can learn this gradually while doing it, so it's basically a free skill that saves a huge amount of time for zero downside. The speed you can watch something depends on factors like how fast they talk and whether they have accents. But once you are good, you can watch most TV and movies using from 2x to 2.5x speed, while being completely comfortable and relaxed. And getting up to being comfortable at 1.5x speed comes pretty quickly and is still fast enough to save a lot of time.

Boredom

Another advantage of speed reading, speed listening and speed watching is that it increases the amount of interesting stuff you engage with per minute. It makes the book or show effectively have denser content, so it's more interesting. All the good parts are packed closer together. This is especially valuable if you need to read something for a school class but it's kind of boring. It makes stuff less boring, more interesting. It's also great if you're bored and have trouble finding enough interesting stuff, because it will change some books and shows from too boring to worthwhile.

Skimming

There's other types of speed reading, but I think most of them are inferior to RSVP and there's no reason to use them. Most other methods of speed reading are designed to work with paper books, but the fact is software is more powerful and superior to paper books. And a speed reading method that utilizes software (RSVP) is superior to one that doesn't.

However, there is a notable form of reading, which is sort of speed reading, which is great. It's called skimming. If you don't need to read every word, don't! This can be a lot faster than even RSVP if you can skip over half the text. And there are plenty of reasons to take a look at something but not read all of it. That's really useful. You might want to see what it is and see if you're interested, but instead of just reading the beginning you skip ahead. A great way to get a sense of a book is to go to a chapter that sounds interesting, read a few paragraphs, skip a few pages, read a few paragraphs, skip a few pages, etc. It's better to adjust what to skip, when, depending what you read though, don't just turn pages thoughtlessly.

RSVP turned up to a really high speed has some similarities to skimming. Both are really fast, and in both cases you miss stuff. What are the main differences? With very fast RSVP, you don't miss any sections of text. Say you're trying to find out if the author addresses a particular counter-argument. He might do that in one paragraph somewhere in the middle of the chapter. If you skim, you could easily miss that paragraph. If you use very high speed RSVP, you'll see every paragraph and you won't miss it. If you're reading too fast you might not understand it, but you'll see the topic and stop and then read that paragraph again.

If you ever want to say something like, "the author doesn't cover topic X" you need to read every sentence, even if very quickly so you don't understand every detail perfectly. But most of the time you don't need to say things like that, and it's no big deal if you miss something, so skimming is great.

I think both skimming and very fast RSVP are underrated. People will try too hard to finish the whole book, or something like that. But a lot of books you can just quickly go through the best parts, look for parts of particular interest to you, etc, and miss a bunch, and you get more value for your time/effort than if you read the whole book.

Books don't have a totally consistent level of quality, and not all the material is equally interesting to you. For most books, the less good parts are not as worthwhile to read for you as just reading one of the better parts from another book (even if that second book is, overall, less good or less interesting to you). Since you aren't going to read all the interesting books – you won't run out – don't hesitate to go through a book quickly. If you can get 75% of the value from the book in 50% of the time, that's absolutely wonderful and you should be thrilled and move on to the next book and do the same thing with it too.

Elliot Temple on February 11, 2015

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