A few thoughts on the Spritz app, which has been designed for wankers’ glasses and other such “smart” platforms with a view to allowing punters to read up to 500 words per minute:

  1. Trying out those samples is a bit like consenting to get poked in the eye repeatedly by a robot with a fistful of multi-coloured sticks, but I found it bearable on the short term and despite the fact that I’m a quick reader the upper speed there was definitely quicker than mine.
  2. Its effectiveness for prolonged use seems highly dubious for a variety of reasons that our good friend Andrew Hickey has already outlined behind closed doors at Mindless HQ – it’s not necessarily faster than some people’s extant reading speed, the stream of flashing red letters seems like a sure route to a headache, and their method of delivery ignores the fact that writing is composed and consumed in units separate from the individual word.  Plus there’s also the fact that whole project seems not to take into the account the existence of blinking – I did a genuine lol when Andrew pointed this out to me.
  3. HOWEVER!  I’m actually pretty fascinated by the thing for what it seems to me to be: a way to take in writing that is fundamentally different from the process of “reading” as we currently understand it.
  4. Without wishing to downplay the many differences between ebooks and their traditional counterparts, Spritz seems to me to be an order apart from both books and their digital equivalents in terms of the experience it suggests.
  5. The fact that Spritz takes the progression of time out of your hands/rendered it non-collaborative is not just a quirk but a ground-up realignment of the reading process.  To state it plainly: Spritz obliterates the idea of the page or paragraph as constructed units, elides the difference between description and dialogue, and renders obsolete any other techniques the author may have used to arrange their chosen words.
  6. This process echoes and amplifies the experience of reading comics on a smartphone by dictating the amount of time you spend on any given linguistic unit while also limiting the context in which this encounter takes place.  In both instances the compositional unity of the page is obscured, but this new(ish) method of reading comics preserves the reader’s input as to the flow and narrative density of time.
  7. Mister Attack described the experience as being like downloading a file instead of reading and he’s not wrong.  There’s a slightly dated Matrix-porn aspect to what we can see of this app, a fetishisation of the idea that you too can learn kung-fu in twenty minutes without ever getting off the couch!
  8. What Spritz represents is a reduction of writing to communication – the writerly aspects of composition are only effective here inasmuch as they were already striving for the effect of information overload.
  9. There’s a potential for further reduction implicit in this first one, namely the reduction of language to mere commodity, to be valued purely in terms of the volume in which it is consumed  – for extra marks, compare and contrast this with the different values words accrue by virtue of their usefulness to search engines.
  10. Spritz therefore seems most suited to the brute rush of “necessary” information to my eyes; certainly, anything that requires thought, reflection and inflection would prompt a bracing disengagement from the system.  This encompasses both works of fiction and non-fiction, of course – neither having a monopoly on allusion or complexity or forward rushing exposition.
  11. All of this calls to mind the passages of Walter Benjamin’s The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction where he claims that new forms develop to achieve effects that old forms have been straining in vain towards - photography achieved things that realist painting was striving towards just by existing, film made easy effects that Dadaist art and poetry had been thrashing out at in defiance of the traditional values, etc.
  12. Bearing that idea in mind, is there a possible application of Spritz‘ effects in fiction?  Can we imagine it as an extension or fulfilment of any existing forms?  I can see an endpoint to/heightening of hysterical realism that would be possible using this form that exceeds the possibilities for reading, but many other styles of writing - from Emily Dickinson to Toni Morrison by way of Alan Garner - would be rendered aggravating or just plain useless here.
  13. I still don’t actually think this will work, but if it did work what would it do?  The immediate possibilities seem depressing – bullshit “e-learning” initiatives, a constant stream of data flickering into your eye at work, “DO YOU SUBMIT TO THIS PROGRAMME?”, etc.  Still, eternal optimist that I am I keep coming back to Benjamin and his attempt to imagine a radical potential in cinema.  Given his efforts to imagine the automated flow of film being broadcast to a distracted public as a potential engine for communal agitation, the question occurs – is there any such potential in the Spritz app? Given that it has been developed for wankers’ glasses and e-readers and is therefore primarily an enclosed, solitary form of distraction, the most likely answer is “probably not” but I would greatly enjoy being proved wrong on that point, because the idea of there being yet another channel for commercial noise to filter through into my life without it adding much of anything is too fucking tedious to bear.

With thanks to Brother Bobsy, Mister Attack, Andrew “Andre Whickey” Hickey, Ad Mindless, Amypoodle, CormacTaters, and Kip Manley, all of whom helped me focus my thoughts on this topic via twitter and email.

 

5 Responses to “Spritz, or “Welcome… to the World of Tomorrow (1983)!””

  1. plok Says:

    Aha!

    So that’s what happened to it!

    I know this technology of old, its hysterical drug-rush, and I remember when I encountered it thinking “holy shit this would be good for forced indoctrination!” Naturally, then, it would be taken up by those who see such things as necessary prerequisites to their utopia…

    This kind of makes me think of Bitcoin a bit, how the unexamined assumption behind all such techno-hubristic dreams of Utopia seems to be “and then it will utterly replace the old shitty stuff we used to have”…it will take over from money just like money took over from barter, inexorably in the name of Progress. Sort of speaks to the political misprisions of tech billionaires, doesn’t it? The idea that capitalism can flourish outside democracies, or the idea that we are already living in a totalitarian regime because women have the vote or something (hi, Peter Thiel). No doubt Bitcoin would be useful if that were the case! But I confidently expect the users and holders of Bitcoin will remain “people who are heavy into Bitcoin, for the foreseeable future…oh, and as well you have to think maybe the whole idea of a comprehensible “trading value” of Bitcoin, like you see on the news, is kinda bullshit? Your bitcoin ostensibly worth three hundred bucks or whatever, I could be convinced to take that off your hands for ten bucks in real money…

    I was just talking a little while ago about this idea that photography “completed” the project of realistic painting, and I’m sure it may be as nutty as Bitcoin having an aggregate “value” — as it seems to me that any painting, no matter how realistic, still stands as an essentially ironic representation: we cannot avoid seeing that the thing is made of paint, and we don’t really wish to, whereas in photography the idea is that everything is done to help us ignore the substrate that supposedly “carries” the image. This makes any photograph a sort of corpuscular visitation from beyond the bounds of our perceptual horizon, not a thing which is “here” but a sort of portal to an Elsewhere…and, significantly, an Elsewhere in which the context of the image is everything that’s excluded from its frame. Painting as an artwork isn’t really like that, anymore than writing is a string of punctuation marks separated by blank spaces — the inclusion and manipulation of context is what the artist strives for. But photographs need words to supplement their meanings just as paintings often don’t?

    So Spritz, ho ho, what a crazy-cool tool for propagandists this thing must be! When the composed nature of the composition is lost, yes, and reading becomes a more passive act that it’s ever been before…hmm, as looking at a photograph demands extra work on the part of the looker to make sense of what the fuck it’s even supposed to be

    Because they’re not words!

    They’re only pictures of words!

    Beamed directly into the cortex.

    Sorry, that may have been the espresso talking…

  2. Illogical Volume Says:

    “Thank god we’ve got plastic, now we can get rid of all that wood!” – that’s one of yours, isn’t it Plok?

    I always liked that one, because I’m in total agreement with you about this delusional idea of progress.

    So of course painting isn’t made redundant by photography any more than dadaist poetry is made redundant by Citizen Kane – always been fond of Barthes’ description of literature as the act of wearing a mask and pointing it out at the same time, and painting has a similar dynamic to it – but there’s still something to that old idea of new forms achieving (sometimes useful) impossibilities in existing forms, I think. If only because it can act as something of a buffer against the initial horror of the new.

    Of course, in this instance it wasn’t enough – that hysterical realism idea is a narrow one, isn’t it? – because “forced indoctrination” is indeed the most obvious and unpleasant application of this particular technology.

    It’s got strange hold on me though Plok!

    “Because they’re not words!

    They’re only pictures of words!”

    Exactly! Exactly!!!

  3. plok Says:

    This damned shitty wood! I’ve always hated it! So warm and natural!

    Pictures of words, yeah…that was the thing they wanted to fix with “digital paper” ebooks, wasn’t it? Reading is easy, but watching words is a massive pain in the ass. However in this case it seems like, much as in Soviet Union, words will be reading you. Not to get too Dollhouse about it or anything.

    David Golding nailed the shit out of this in a comment on that post of mine you so kindly linked up above — the real and fundamental difference between books and e-books is that the former possesses real space, and the second only a simulation of space. I think that’s why conventionally-written newspaper articles don’t fly on the Web, because you can’t turn the page and then turn it back later, if you get bored…because once you click away from the thing you’re bored with reading it isn’t THERE anymore. Same reason why CDs are still the best way to get music into people’s ears that they haven’t actually decided they feel like listening to…

    But yeah: it’s the space that’s being taken away, isn’t it? Virtual space is such a poor substitute it’s better to do away with it altogether, and replace it with time…interval. Music runs on that, and spoken language too, but books were always unique in that had to be composed, then decoded according to a rather nuanced scheme. What I noticed on first encounter with the Spritz-thing’s forerunner is that I hadn’t been aware of the effort I was expending, minimal though it was to me, on the act of reading. But the Spritz-thing took all that effort away — I wasn’t reading any longer, merely recognizing, and so it occurred to me that if I just sped the thing up a tiny fraction over my ideal conscious-absorption rate then it’d amplify the already-existing effect whereby I was not being given enough time to evaluate and contextualize what I was taking in, to the point where all I wasn’t noticing could just slide in subliminally. Unexamined assumptions, plausible-sounding falsities, habituable ways of making connections, and maybe even obvious untruths whipped by too fast to accept as anything other than statements of fact…just a twist of the dial, and rhetoric could begin to have an automatic effect? A bit like all the lies that live on the side of packaged foodstuffs — it was (perhaps) once just “labelling”, but now it’s become ad copy that goes conveniently under the name of “labelling”, and so powerful is the suasion of that name that we never notice the change? You know, like an energy drink that boasts “No Caffeine!” on the side of it…yet scrupulously avoids saying “100% Caffeine-Free” because that would be illegal.

    So: prose, turned into “labelling”? Making the so-called reader just the labeller…

    Now that one might’ve been the low blood sugar talking, sorry.

    Anyway, it’s spooky stuff. And another step in the direction of that ST: TNG episode with the video-game glasses that you know the people who make this shit all saw when they were young. Christ, do they think they’re the only ones who saw that episode?

  4. plok Says:

    Also Snow Crash was really cool, you guys.

  5. BLOG TOUR MEME! | A Trout In The Milk Says:

    [...] the sense of the…the composed nature of the composition, the sense of a special compositional space that I can enter when I’m working and then leave again when I’m not. The computer just [...]

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