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Over the last few years, I’ve been trying to read more. The biggest motivation came from finally working my way through a thick book or two and feeling as inspired as I’d felt after any movie, TV show or article. I try to keep a nonfiction and fiction book going most of the time, and seeing as I have a nine to five side of my life, I definitely do not have enough time to tackle all the books on my wish list.

To help, I’ve done a fair bit of research into ‘speed reading’, and while it may live somewhere near alchemy in many of our minds, the keys to reading faster are quite effective. The first and most important step involves minimizing subvocalization, the habit of saying words in your head as you read. Just as we don’t need to say ‘STOP’ to ourselves as we approach a stop sign, we can gather meaning from groups of words without reading each one. While some prose is too satisfying to breeze through, absorbing blocks of words as ideas is often as effective.

But my point isn’t to implore you to read faster, read at whatever speed you enjoy. Instead, I’m compelled to think what ‘minimizing subvocalization’ might mean for our future. When I was younger, I learned dozens of phone numbers to memory and yet, I haven’t dialed any of them in years. ‘Call mom’ dials her phone number, just as dials This is a good thing for most of us, there’s very little satisfaction in knowing ten digits. The power comes from what is behind those digits, the conversation, the person.

But can the same be said for all of the ‘inconveniences’ that will surely be removed from our lives? Google Translate is absolutely phenomenal. It provides access to the best resources on the internet and gives peace of mind to travelers throughout the world. The next step feels quite clear. Searches for Google Translate have constantly increased over the last 10 years, with November 2016 being its highest month ever. As the remaining flaws are ironed out, we should be prepared for what comes next. A real world Babel Fish is only a few years off, giving us access to any and all languages. Wireless headphones could multitask as instant translators, further flattening our already globalized world.  The benefits will be huge, but will it be the same to experience Paris in English?

Taking it a bit further, I think we can expect a subvocalization-like translator. As research into the brain improves and the divide between biology and technology continues to blur, will our conversations involve strings of ideas rather than words? Will we be ‘free’ from the responsibility of unpacking a sentence’s meaning?

Without getting too deep, it’s easy to imagine current technology evolving to predict our needs and wants then translating these to others. We arrive in a new country and the taxi is already waiting. Dinnertime arrives and the reservation has been made, the dishes already selected. New places and scenery are observed and our opinions are predicted and shared with loved ones. Transferring ideas rather than words can feel like a long way off, but it’s closer than it seems. We may think this will never happen with our conversations, but hasn’t it already?

Most advancement we experience is beneficial. I’m happy every time I avoid a bad restaurant, read a foreign webpage, or share my experiences from across an ocean. But it’s curious to think about language when its ultimate task, transferring ideas, is performed by an app. Vinyl records and photo albums have maintained life from a small group who loves the act of sitting down to an album or flipping through past memories. Are we seeing communication take the same turn as music and photography already have? If so, I hope there’s more than just hipsters to keep it alive.


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