Working backwards, we start with Roland Barthes’ slim volume: The Pleasure of the Text. Barthes turns the phrase around, upside down, inside out; opens the dimensions of the words across several languages; and views it through the lens of dozens of thinkers and poets. The pleasure of the text and the text of pleasure.
If I read this sentence, this story, or this word with pleasure, it is because they were written in pleasure (such pleasure does not contradict the writer’s complaints). But the opposite? Does writing in pleasure guarantee– guarantee me, the writer– my reader’s pleasure? Not at all. I must seek out this reader (must “cruise” him) without knowing where he is. A site of bliss is then created. It is not the reader’s “person” that is necessary to me, it is this site: the possibility of a dialectics of desire, of an unpredictability of bliss: the bets are not placed, there can still be a game.
The Pleasure of the Text
There’s the pleasure of the text itself, which is Barthes’ subject, and then there’s the pleasure of the activity of reading the text. The text has lead a cozy existence, tucked away in a folio as ink on paper. Its reading required only a clean, well-lighted place and a sufficiently comfortable chair. Requirements not lost on the large book retailers.
As the text lifts anchor and departs from its safe harbor of ink and paper, it will visit many ports before it finds an acceptable new reading environment. The fact that one can read text from a computer screen or a mobile phone does not mean that it’s a pleasurable experience.
In the act of reading, we often become so absorbed by the narrative that we lose sight of the mechanism by which the words enter the stream of our consciousness. It’s that flow, that lift off that the user experience of reading must enable.
But let’s take a step back. What happens when a reading experience falls short? Rather than each word pulling you toward the next, the reader must exert energy to pull herself from the current word to the next one. If the value of the text is high enough, the energy expended is offset, and a surplus of value remains. If the cost is too high; no reading takes place. There are many use cases where this kind of investment transaction provides value. Over time an investment in a complex transaction type leads to a higher skill level and better yield.
When reading for pleasure, we want the cost be very low, almost non-existent. And that gets us to the user experience of reading the digital text. Digital text has been available for many years, but the “all in” cost of reading has been too high. We’ve seen similar value equations with listening to MP3 files and using the Network through a mobile phone. The pieces were all there, but the user experience wasn’t right.
When will we know that the user experience of digital reading has found the right ratio? We’ll know when there is no experience of the activity of reading, but only the pleasure of the text.