Finding Flow In Post-Print Era

What is the difference between knowledge and information?

Ten or twenty years ago questions that most of us, who wanted to publish a poem or a quick prose on the Web, faced weren’t so obvious. Today more and more people are asking these questions that once remained within the serious academic sphere: What is the difference between knowledge and information? Is it possible to make sense of the world around us out of the massive explosion of information that’s occurring for some time right now? How much information is required to improve the quality of one’s life? How much should you know before you can claim that you truly know? Can one produce truly new information? Can new style justify duplication of old information? Should we demand total transparency from our governments? Does the real-world definition of privacy still apply in the virtual world? What about copyright?

In order to find right answers to these questions, the information architects of our generation have to go back in time to the old museums and cold libraries and re-discover the wisdom buried in the pre-print, print and post-print artifacts. We must uncover the secret recipe to ‘flow’—a state of mind where you are ‘being completely involved in an activity for its own sake. The ego falls away. Time flies. Every action, movement, and thought follows inevitably from the previous one, like playing jazz. Your whole being is involved, and you’re using your skills to the utmost.’

Read John Geirland’s interview with the guru of flow for Wired magazine:

According to Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, great Web sites are not about navigating content, but staging experience. A compelling Web site transforms a random walk into an exhilarating chase. The key, says psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, is a finely tuned sense of rhythm, involvement, and anticipation known as “flow.” Csikszentmihalyi (pronounced “CHICK-sent-me-high-ee”), a professor at the University of Chicago, has spent more than 25 years researching flow, a state of “intense emotional involvement” and timelessness that comes from immersive and challenging activities such as software coding or rock climbing. His work is studied by marketing specialists like Vanderbilt University’s Donna Hoffman and Thomas Novak, who write that flow is “a central construct when considering consumer navigation on commercial Web sites.” In books like Creativity: Flow and the Psychology of Discovery and Invention, Csikszentmihalyi explores the implications of flow for personal and societal evolution.

John: What do you mean by flow?

Mihaly: Being completely involved in an activity for its own sake. The ego falls away. Time flies. Every action, movement, and thought follows inevitably from the previous one, like playing jazz. Your whole being is involved, and you’re using your skills to the utmost.

John: How can a Web site be designed to stimulate and sustain a flow experience?

Mihaly: A Web site that promotes flow is like a gourmet meal. You start off with the appetizers, move on to the salads and entrées, and build toward dessert. Unfortunately, most sites are built like a cafeteria. You pick whatever you want. That sounds good at first, but soon it doesn’t matter what you choose to do. Everything is bland and the same. Web site designers assume that the visitor already knows what to choose. That’s not true. People enter Web sites hoping to be led somewhere, hoping for a payoff.

John: So goals are important?

Mihaly: Goals transform a random walk into a chase. You need clear goals that fit into a hierarchy, with little goals that build toward more meaningful, higher-level goals. Here you are, tracking the footprints of some animal you haven’t seen. That’s exhilarating. Then there’s the question of feedback. Most Web sites don’t very much care what you do. It would be much better if they said: “You’ve made some interesting choices” or “You’re developing a knowledge of Picasso.” There’s also the ability to challenge. Competition is an easy way to get into flow.

John: Internet marketers embrace flow as the “glue that holds consumers in the online environment.” Are people more easily influenced while in a state of flow?

Mihaly: Actually, they’re probably more critical. A flow experience has got to be challenging. Anything that is not up to par is going to be irritating or ignored.

John: Your interest in flow came out of your work on the psychology of creativity. What advice do you have for online content creators who want to be more creative?

Mihaly: Realize that change and downtime are important. I found that if a painter relates to objects only through vision, his work is much less original than a painter who walks up to the object, smells it, throws it in the air, and manipulates it. The variety of sensory inputs allows you to create a visual image that has all kinds of dimensions bubbling up inside it. We are still a multimedia organism. If we want to push the envelope of complexity further, we have to use all of our devices for accessing information – not all of which are rational.
John: Flow depends on the ability to engage in intense concentration. But media, like television, seem to be shortening our attention spans.

Mihaly: It’s true that some kids who have grown up on only television fare have ridiculously short attention spans. One problem television poses is that it doesn’t provide children with the physical evidence of cause and effect. In olden times, if you didn’t get up and out of bed at 5 a.m. to milk the cows, you knew those cows would soon start screaming. What you did had consequences. Now children are passive observers of information without any responsibility.

John: Does the interactivity of the Net recapture part of that cause and effect?

Mihaly: Yes, to the extent that you have to play by the rules and each move has a consequence. Still, it is a symbolic causal system, like playing chess, and it may present too narrow a set of consequences. Playing chess is not the whole world, and there are chess champions – like Bobby Fischer – who are absolute babies in terms of operating in society.

John: In your book The Evolving Self, you wrote about promoting small social units, or cells, that would direct the course of evolution. Do you now see online communities filling that function?

Mihaly: Possibly. The cells I wrote about would be made up of people in the same locale who share some common interests and concerns, which are easy to translate into commitment. On the other hand, online communities are easy to create, but they are also easy to ignore and drop out of. There has to be a common business interest or ideology before an online community can have much leverage.

John: Will the Net be a tool for advancing the evolutionary goal of a more complex consciousness?

Mihaly: The Net allows the easy exchange of information and the communication of values. But I’m still fighting the notion that the Net is really going to result in a more complex vision of reality. When things become too easy, they also end up becoming more sloppy. In the Middle Ages, for example, people were willing to walk from Stockholm to Munich to meet somebody who had something important to say. They listened and thought seriously about what they heard. Now, communication is instantaneous. I’m afraid after a while we may not pay much attention to it. The gates of attention allow very few things to come in.

What can modern businesses learn from the Web?

Gary Hamel, celebrated management thinker and author and co-founder of the Management, make the case for reinventing management for the 21st century. In this fast-paced, idea-packed, 15-minute video essay, Hamel paints a vivid picture of what it means to build organizations that are fundamentally fit for the future—resilient, inventive, inspiring and accountable. “Modern” management is one of humanity’s most important inventions, Hamel argues. But it was developed more than a century ago to maximize standardization, specialization, hierarchy, control, and shareholder interests. While that model delivered an immense contribution to global prosperity, the values driving our most powerful institutions are fundamentally at odds with those of this age—zero-sum thinking, profit-obsession, power, conformance, control, hierarchy, and obedience don’t stand a chance against community, interdependence, freedom, flexibility, transparency, meritocracy, and self-determination. It’s time to radically rethink how we mobilize people and organize resources to productive ends. —MIX

Teach Cinema to Children

“The man is only half himself, the other half is his expression.”

400-blows

 

“Who is the father of computer?” I asked my 9-year-old niece. “Charles Babbage,” she replied promptly. Then I asked her, “And who is the father of cinema?” “What is cinema?” the fourth grader asked me. “It’s the art of films,” I tried to explain but seeing the little girl perplexed, I changed the topic. We were soon talking about ants that had found their way into a cupboard where she had kept her candies.

The first thing that a man learns is the language of his people. The language of other arts is an acquired and a required skill. When I was in school, I learned about many great personalities but none of them were filmmakers. Why don’t we teach cinema to children?

There is little evidence that we have understood this modern man’s expression. There are not many people who can ‘read’ films. Is this the reason why film history is still not a part of the school curriculum while other expressions are taught seriously? I discovered the new language of cinema very late during my adolescence. If anything, the idiot box was just a major distraction until my discovery of the cinematic language came along with the discovery of P2P and bit torrents. I had only heard about Satyajit Ray until I was 18. The Apu Trilogy was my first download; The Bicycle Thief was second. Sadly, a majority of us are not unaware of the many potentials and powers of the cinematic medium. But I can at least feel satisfied that I’ve already started.

While Ray was a redefinition of what cinema could be, there was one film that just changed everything for me. I don’t know whom to thank for the inspiration or the creation of this great art form; cinema has no such patron deity. It is truly modern. But I worship Ingmar Bergman anyway; it was his persona, his partnership with cinematographer Sven Nykvist that convinced me that cinema is the art of all arts and it warrants a serious study like other ‘expressions.’

The technology that limited the faculty earlier is no longer an issue. The Kerala State Chalachitra Academy, for one in South Asia, has already taken steps to make cinema an integral part of the school curriculum. NJ Nair wrote in The Hindu this January that the academy has proposed teaching the aesthetics of cinema, the technical aspects of filmmaking, including cinematography, editing and sound recording, in the vocational higher secondary education.

“Students should have a serious approach to cinema and they should learn it like literature itself. While appreciating the intrinsic artistic worth of cinema, they should be able to make use of its employment potential too. Hence, we have mooted a serious study of the technical aspects at the higher secondary level,” the academy vice-chairman VK Joseph told the newspaper.

Ronald Bergman started a similar discussion on The Guardian blog. He writes: Schoolchildren should be taught how to “read” films just as they are taught to read literature. They should learn how films systematize time and space and communicate ideas and emotions; how the patterns and structures of film genres allow us to engage specific historical and social rituals; how different conceptions of film history can direct and shape our responses; how film theory is a pragmatic extension and intensification of our interactions with a film, formal, technical and empirical. They should learn how to explore films from different angles and cultural perspectives.

“Why is film history not taught to schoolchildren?” The question must have occurred to many in the later half of the last century. A majority of us might consider it too modern a notion for our country. All great art form is modern in the true sense. Some might call it a dangerous proposition. All art is dangerous. Before our children begin to ask the same question tomorrow, let’s acquaint ourselves with the art of films. Let’s start “reading” films.