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.

Being Charlie Kaufman

ee cummings: To be nobody but yourself in a world which is doing its best night and day to make you everybody else means to fight the hardest battle which any human being can fight, and never stop fighting.

charlie-kaufman

“Here’s a recent quote that I found: ‘we do not talk, we bludgeon one another with facts and theories gleaned from cursory readings of newspapers, magazines and digests,’. That was actually written in 1945 by Henry Miller, and I think it’s timely. I think what it says is that the world has been on its present course it’s on for a long time. People all over the world spend countless hours of their lives, every week, being fed entertainment in the form of movies, tv shows, newspapers, YouTube videos, the internet. And it’s ludicrous to believe that this stuff doesn’t alter our brains.

“And it’s also equally ludicrous to believe that at the very least this mass distraction and manipulation is not convenient for the people who are in charge. People are starving, they may not know it because they’re being fed mass produced garbage. The packaging is colourful and loud, but it’s produced in the same factories that make Pop Tarts and iPads, by people sitting around thinking ‘what can we do to get people to buy more of these?’.

“And they’re very good at their jobs. But that’s what it is you’re getting, because that’s what they’re making, they’re selling you something. And the world is built on this now, politics and government are built on this, corporations are built on this. Interpersonal relationships are built on this, and we’re starving, all of us, and we’re killing each other, and we’re hating each other, and we’re calling each other liars and evil because it’s all become marketing and we want to win because we’re lonely and empty and scared and we’re led to believe winning will change all that. But there is no winning.

“What can be done? Say who you are, really say it in your life and in your work. Tell someone out there who is lost, someone not yet born, someone who won’t be born for 500 years. Your writing will be a record of your time, it can’t help but be. But more importantly if you’re honest about who you are you’ll help that person be less lonely in their world because that person will recognise him or herself in you and that will give them hope. It’s done so for me, and I have to keep rediscovering it, its profound importance in my life. Give that to the world, rather than selling something to the world, don’t allow yourself to be tricked into thinking that the way things are is the way the world must work and that in the end selling is what everyone must do. Try not to.

“This is from ee cummings: ‘to be nobody but yourself in a world which is doing its best night and day to make you everybody else means to fight the hardest battle which any human being can fight, and never stop fighting’. The world needs you, it doesn’t need you at a party having read a book about how to appear smart at parties – these books exist, and they’re tempting – but resist falling into that trap, the world needs you at the party starting real conversations, saying ‘I don’t know,’ ….being kind. (link)

Resources Online:

On Charlie Rose (Part I & II) (17 min)
On Synecdoche, life, work (with Tom Tangney) (17 min)
On writing, television years (Thinktalk) (12 min)
Charlie Kaufman On Being — And Directing (NPR– audio) (30 min)

Read:

Wikipedia
Being Charlie Kaufman (Salon)
Interview with Kaufman (Bluntreview)
BFI – Screenwriters Lecture Series  (Close-Up Film)
Anurag Kashyap’s notes Kaufman’s master class

Let’s Get Back to Business

obama-elected-president

I’ve waited for certain moments with great yearning. But when they finally arrived, I wasn’t always there to experience them. What could an aspiring writer wait more eagerly than his publication?

I was making a rare appearance in the college that day when I saw a group of students with their necks stretched up to the notice board. I wondered if I had missed anything of import. Yes, I had: a copy of my first published work was pinned on the board.

I had always yenned for this big moment for years. I wanted to be the first person to announce my debut. But I would never get the chance. Afterwards publishing became so ordinary a feeling, there would be nothing special about it.

I felt the same way when Barack Obama was elected as the president of the United States. I had fever, and the last thing on my mind was the presidential elections. When I recovered, it was already time to get back to business.

Mutilating Classics

What is evident from the debate surrounding whether Pather Panchali should be dabbled into color or not is that the question doesn’t have easy answers.

After watching Vittorio De Sica’s Ladri De biciclette (The Bicycle Thief) in 1951, one 35-year-old artist was tempted to experiment with the visual medium of expression. But he couldn’t convince any Bengali producers to fund his film set in a rural countryside, a film based on a novel that lacked glamour or gloss. Despite these hurdles, this talented young man continued drawing covers for different books to make a living and started shooting his film with a bunch of totally new inexperienced cast. It took him three years to finish the film mostly due to the financial crunch. However this film, partially funded by the government of West Bengal, created history – it was the first Indian film to be nominated for the Academy Awards. The young director was Satyajit Ray as many of you know and the film was Pather Panchali (The Song of Road)which is now regarded as one of the milestones of not only Indian but the world cinema.

For Ray it was Ladri De Bicycette, for me it has been the Apu Trilogy. And before watching a number of Akira Kurosawa classics and The Bicycle Thief itself, I had never thought I’d ever take ‘films’ seriously. Then, Ingmar Bergman’s Personashowed me the power and potential of this ‘new’ medium of art. The emotional and inspirational bond I share with these early works of cinematic art has, therefore, instilled in me this confidence to set out on my own course like many before me. Their works were testimonies to their time and technology. As the contemporary mainstream cinema gets diluted in glamour of color, one should not forget these black and white classics were also the product of creative, compassionate and concerned minds trying to understand the role of man in the society and seeking reform through whatever they had in their hands at their time. They were not just story tellers but above all modern day philosophers, poets and painters who changed the world and other art forms in many ways. Yet the only difference between the great tradition and these new breed of auteurs was certainly their unconventional medium.

While Ray famously wedded art to truth in his films, I admit it is very difficult to find Satyajit Ray in local film stores. I remember searching Guru Dutt’s films in many film stores without any luck. Then at one film store when I finally located them, the owner thought it was for my father. When I said it was for me, the old man asked me what I did. It was hard to find an answer for this difficult question. I could only say, “I’m trying to write.”

Now, the X- and-Y generation of our time may finally get a chance to see Pather Panchali without feeling ‘pride or shame’ in December this year because it would be in color. But that is only if Sankranti Creations, which has already put colored versions of Mughal-e-Azam and Naya Daur to successful reruns, succeeds in its plan to ‘modernize’ this masterpiece much to the dismay of a small ‘minority’ within the industry that want to preserve the artistic integrity of such films. Mughal-e-Azamand Naya Daur doesn’t come anywhere near Pather Panchali. They are three important films in history of Indian cinema but even then any attempt to compare them is not intelligent. The Sankranti Creations’ third ‘choice’ to show off its talents and do ‘a favour’ to this film has certainly triggered concern among the lovers of world cinema. While we have reasons to worry, we also have time to stop that nightmare from becoming a unfortunate reality.

What is evident from the debate surrounding whether Pather Panchali should be dabbled into color or not is that the question doesn’t have easy answers. In late 1980s, American filmmakers, cinematographers and artists fought tooth and nail to stop one of the major studios, Turner Broadcasting System which owns rights to some of the best known classics, from its efforts to put color to these films. However, those who were opposed to coloring cinema had to settle down for a label on the new packages of the same films that stated that they have been materially altered. A notice like we have on covers of cigarette casings today: “This is a colorized version of a film originally marketed and distributed to the public in black and white. It has been altered without the participation of the principal director, screenwriter and other creators of the original film.” I doubt if the same dreadful fate awaits the classics of Indian cinema. I often wonder if the new generation of cinemagoers is afraid of black and white movies or the distributors that they won’t get returns for their money.

However, the campaign to ban colorization did get some success when the Congress agreed to initially place 25 American films on the National Film Registry as ”culturally, historically or esthetically significant”. In another incident related to the controversy, a high French court had blocked the first screening of a colored version of John Huston’s Asphalt Jungleciting that coloring would cause ”unmendable and intolerable damage” to the film’s integrity and infringed on the late director’s estate and moral rights in 1988. Until his death in 1987, Houston had lobbied Congress in favor of a law that would prevent coloring a film against its creator’s wishes. Huston had described watching the colored version of one of his own filmsThe Maltese Falcon, the first of noir films, as “disgustful”. In a videotape message for a Congress panel which was to decide whether a bill proposing to ban colorization of black and white films be introduced, he had complained, ”Why should this mindless insipidity be allowed? Why should Humphrey Bogart and Mary Astor, who were so careful about their images, be bushwacked by the coloroids?”

Yet, three years after Huston’s death, his gangster classic “Key Largo” was repackaged with the same ‘colorized’ tag which served no purpose than the ‘statutory warning’ printed on its cover.

The 1988 French court decision to block the screening of colored Asphalt Jungle was based on French copyright law according to which filmmakers had the right to control how their works were exhibited. Do we have any laws that protect films like Pather Panchali? I’m afraid we don’t. Sankranti Creations has unveiled its plan to work out an arrangement with the West Bengal government for sharing revenue generated from the screening of the tinted Pather Panchali. It is yet to be seen whether the West Bengal government upholds Ray’s moral artistic rights or not. However, Sandip Ray, his son, has been strongly opposed to the idea. He said his father never wished to color the film though he had some dissatisfaction with the editing of the first part of the film, according to Arup K De, CEO of the Satyajit Ray Society.

In his cover story ‘Hands Off’ published in the 8th Day (Sunday Statesman, April 6, 2008), Arun K De wrote that a host of actors and directors including Mrinal Sen, Pradip Mukhopadhyay, Barun Chanda, Buddhadeb Dasgupta and Gautam Ghosh were opposed to the idea. He wrote, “For the question is not whether one should or should not add color to black-and-white movies, but whether a film chosen for color-transfer needs such a makeover at all. A Kolkata-based TV channel, 24 Ghanta, conducted an SMS survey on 28 March, and 96 per cent of those who responded said Pather Panchali needed no support of color to improve its quality or make it appear more attractive to contemporary viewers.” I believe the West Bengal government is listening and will respect the people’s will than permit Sankranti Creations, or for that matter anyone else, to mutilate ‘a poem in celluloid’ out of greed for some extra bucks alone.

Today the debate is about coloring the films but where will this lead us tomorrow? With the development in digital technology, we now have enough ‘resources’ to technically ‘improve’ these films. ”Why not jazz up a little the music in ‘Gone with the Wind?’ Kids are today heavily into heavy metal, so let’s replace the soundtrack with electric guitars and drums,” was all a ‘frustrated’ director Milos Forman could say when he was lobbying to ban colorization of the past cinematic works back in 1987. Film, due to its mass production capabilities, could be cut and paste and used again and again in different forms and for different purposes by different people. One argument from those who favor such trend is that they are producing new cinematic works in one hand and also not destroying the original. But then the choice is ours because the confrontation of the two choices is soon going to become a reality.

At one side, there are parties that want to commercially exploit a piece of art. On the other, there are very few but powerful voices fighting to protect the artistic integrity of such works. Is it justifiable to colorize a film just to suit the taste of contemporary viewers? I really don’t feel so because a film won’t be a film at all after that kind of mutilations. Those with even a slight respect of such great filmmakers and their works vow that it would be completely unacceptable. It is thus that the government of West Bengal needs not to think twice to outrightly reject Sankranti Creations’ proposal. The dilly-dallying in publicizing its official decision is only adding worries to everyone awaiting their disposition with great concern. When even today’s filmmakers often prefer to return to the black and white stock to shoot poignant tales, one wonders what makes Sankranti Creations anticipate support for its evil proposition.

April 2008