Sunday, November 11, 2012

Reading Reinvented

Co-Founder & CEO, Booktrack - Turn the page on stress - HuffPost  - 11/07/2012

"Reading stimulates the imagination and a good imagination can change the world in the most splendid of ways." - Meredith Wood

A good book can transport us from the present to faraway places, unexpected situations, and events only possible in our imagination. It is only through reading that we can access this powerful place; escape reality, relax and de-stress. But this magical state of being propelled into a story is now being increasingly challenged by the pressures and demands of everyday life.

The world is becoming louder, both consciously and subconsciously; whether it is noisy children, the distraction of checking email, or your mind dwelling on that upcoming meeting. In addition to increasing your stress levels, this fast-paced world we now live in affords us fewer opportunities to relax and immerse ourselves in a world that is not our own.

Whenever I mention reading to people with high-powered jobs, the comment is usually the same: "I used to read a lot, but now don't have the time," or "my mind can't switch off to concentrate on reading anymore, unless I'm on holiday."
While it might be understandable that busy executives cannot find the time to read anymore, the statistics for young people does not make good reading: 62 percent of high school graduates and 33 percent of college graduates have not read a book in last 12 months (Reading At Risk: A Survey of Literary Reading in America, Research Division Report #46).

This study was conducted in 2002 and showed a consistent decrease in literary reading rates over the previous 20 years. It is scary to think what the reading rate is now. Reading, once our preferred pastime, is quickly being superseded by video games, the Internet, television and films as our methods of choice to relax and de-stress at the end of a busy day.
So what can we do about this? As we all know, there is nothing more relaxing and enjoyable than getting lost in a good book.

Listening to music is another method for relieving stress, and its beneficial effects are well documented. Unlike reading on its own, it is effective in blocking out the world around us and this has led many people to read while listening to music. In fact, this is how the concept of Booktrack was born. My brother Mark was reading a book while commuting to work by ferry. To block out noise around him he listened to his iPod while he read. At different points in the book he noticed that the music and events in the book seemed to match. Light happy music played during a happy scene in the book, while coincidently a depressing sequence of events had a darker track playing. So what if every book had a synchronized soundtrack that matched each event in the story with music, ambient sound, and sound effects?

That's Booktrack, a fully immersive experience that blocks out the noise and transports you right inside the story you're reading. This has the effect of stimulating your inner imagination, relaxing your mind, and reducing your stress.
Since the invention of ebooks and ereaders, there have been attempts to enhance books to bring people back to reading and engage them in new and wonderful ways. Unfortunately, before Booktrack, what was added to the reading experience were mostly videos or interactive games to enhanced ebooks. These are, in fact, less effective because they force you out of your inner imagination to engage with a video or game experience, before you have to get back into that imaginative state to enjoy reading again. This all amounts to a very disruptive, distracting and frustrating reading experience!

Booktrack is different because it is the only enhancement to reading delivered to you while you read. The synchronized soundtrack technology matches the text you are reading, and it adapts to your reading speed as you read. Ambient sounds bring the scene you are reading about to life; the sound effects, which match the events happening in the story, make you feel like you're there; and the music brings emotion to the scene at just the right moment. Note Booktrack is not an audio book -- the reader must still read the book to themselves.
The soundtrack is not intrusive, it merely sets the scene for you to get immersed in the book quicker and keep you there longer. In a book it is the narrative arc that creates and releases tension, while in film it is the movie score that produces the same tension due to the absence of text. So combining both the narrative and a music score with Booktrack creates an incredibly powerful and immersive reading experience.
A merchant banker in New York recently commented to me that he had not read a book in years but instantly found himself unable to put the Booktrack edition down because it immediately stopped his hyperactive mind from thinking about work and instead he could focus on the story. Booktrack does not just help with focus and removing distractions, a New York University study also found that Booktrack caused a significant increase in comprehension and retention when compared to traditional eReading.

Of course, Booktrack is not without its detractors. Reading has not changed in over 2,000 years so it is understandable that traditionalist readers are not so sure about this evolution (and they are not the target market because they are already avid and committed readers). However, the technology behind it is cutting edge and once people try it, they usually cannot put (or turn) it down!

It's interesting to note that sound was not a welcome addition to film in 1928. It was described by Time Magazine as, "the effect is startling, but often annoying" and Literacy Digest said " makes a double assault on the nerves..."! Could you imagine a movie without sound now? The music is vital in bringing the emotion and drama to the film scene - so why not also bring a similar experience to reading?
After all, de-stressing through reading has been a common pastime for the last 2,000 years; let's make sure it continues for the next generation.

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