The dream of a reading machine.
April 28, 2010 6:15 AM   Subscribe

"The written word hasn't kept up with the age. The movies have outmanoeuvered it. We have the talkies, but as yet no Readies." So wrote Rob Brown in 1930 in his book The Readies. Putting his money where his mouth was, he made a prototype readie, which has since been lost. Brown's story is recounted by Jennifer Schuessler in The New York Times. Brown expert Craig Saper has created a replica Readie online, which includes amongst others texts by Gertrude Stein, William Carlos Williams, F. T. Marinetti as well as translations from Horace by Ezra Pound. [Some of the texts shock modern sensibilities]
posted by Kattullus (17 comments total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
Via Three Percent.
posted by Kattullus at 6:16 AM on April 28, 2010

Turning a 2D, random access format into a linear access one, what a great idea!
posted by DU at 6:21 AM on April 28, 2010 [1 favorite]

Please o please mr. man, make this a downloadable crossplatform item into which I can jam any old text. Please please please.

posted by chavenet at 6:34 AM on April 28, 2010

Not to be too nit-picky, but the Readie guy's byline was *Bob* Brown, not Rob.

On preview, what DU said. One of the (many) delights of Stein and Williams' avant garde writings is being able to glance around the page (or flip pages) and see resonances and patterns in the text, which is lost with the ticker-tape-like readie concept.

Well-intentioned gesture, but in practice not a keeper.
posted by aught at 6:50 AM on April 28, 2010

Yeah, this format (tiny, smoothly moving, unstoppable string of words) does not work very well with how humans read text. It's a neat idea, but makes my eyes hurt.
posted by heyforfour at 6:56 AM on April 28, 2010 [1 favorite]

Kinagrams are the ticket!
posted by Evilspork at 7:01 AM on April 28, 2010

And the other early take on a machine to accelerate and amplify reading by Vannevar Bush, the memex. A little more non-linear and an early attempt at hypertext. Never prototyped, so mostly a thought experiment.

The essay is interesting because Bush drops coy hints about the still top secret atomic bomb ("strange destructive gadgets") and the early computers. There's also a hint of what became xerography. Very much the in joke for the wartime technocrats.
posted by warbaby at 7:16 AM on April 28, 2010

I actually think this is a little easier than reading a book. Maybe it's me, but my eyes get tired and bored of going from line to line. While the presentation of an actual book can be interpreted as a different art entirely, I'd still like to read a whole book as a stream like this. I can even daze off, let my eyes unfocus, and I can still read it.

I'm lazy.
posted by hanoixan at 7:34 AM on April 28, 2010 [1 favorite]

This 'readie' makes me want to go do something I enjoy, like playing a violent videogame or something. It's not a very pleasant experience.
posted by fuq at 7:35 AM on April 28, 2010

If my experience reading long scrollers in old demos (example) holds up, after reading one of these for about 15 minutes, the whole world will appear to be moving to the left, and upon standing up, you will immediately fall to the floor.
posted by zsazsa at 7:55 AM on April 28, 2010 [1 favorite]

posted by psylosyren at 8:03 AM on April 28, 2010

We used to have something a little bit like this, in elementary school. It was kind of a specialized projector that would display one sentence at a time. I think it might have been called EDL, but I can't find any reference to it in a quick Google search.

I believe the purpose was to increase your reading speed, trying to teach you to read whole phrases at once instead of individual sentences. They started slow, early in the semester, and then gradually sped up; by the end they were very fast indeed, and then you'd get quizzed on the contents of what you'd just read.

I always enjoyed it, being a fast reader to begin with, but I got the impression that most of the kids thought it was a torture device. :)
posted by Malor at 8:07 AM on April 28, 2010

The speed is not right for me at all. The regular speed is way too slow and I get distracted, but if I speed it up it goes too fast and I get lost. It gives me a headache. I can see why it didn't catch on.
posted by interplanetjanet at 8:53 AM on April 28, 2010

There were analog versions of this kicking around in the 70's that were much easier on the eyes. This web implementation doesn't do text updates well on high speed; you can see characters being redrawn over others, and the persistence of my laptop's screen makes it all too much to tolerate.

But imagine if none of the redraw and persistence artifacts were there. Imagine a screen twice as big as a typical laptop's. Then imagine a big rotary speed knob on a panel below a well-lit screen and a lever to adjust focus, your hands unocupied with any keyboard or mouse/trackpad. It was an enjoyable experience as a young kid to see how fast I could make the sucker roll its tapes and still keep up. (It was also fun to see the motion blur when you cranked it to the max - they engineered it well; even on full speed you could see focused text if you really tried.) It boosted my reading speed significantly at an early age.

Years later I took a speed-reading course, brought the recommended book home, worked at it for a while. The course did yield a slight increase, but nothing compared to what the strip reader did for me. Those things rocked.
posted by Hardcore Poser at 9:11 AM on April 28, 2010 [1 favorite]

There's lots of people making and using readies these days, if speed-reading software counts. Here's a Firefox plugin that seems pretty popular.

This is a neat story, but from a technical perspective it's missing an awful lot that's happened in the last 80 years.
posted by jhc at 10:47 AM on April 28, 2010

Great concept for people who are easily moved from position to position on the page by brain chemistry. Slow readers are often the ones who constantly go back a few lines to check that they didn't miss something.

A device like this where random access isn't possible could really help in those cases (naturally though, if somebody made this into an iPhone app you'd be able to flick backwards just for flicking's sake).

When I'm on the treadmill, I set my e-reader to automatic scrolling and I burn through the pages like crazy.

Also, if I lost my glasses, one line at a time plus a huge lens would be perfect.

So it's not like "RANDOM ACCESS ROCKS THIS SUCKS" is the only way to approach this technology.
posted by circular at 11:15 AM on April 28, 2010

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