Future Cinema

Course Site for Future Cinema 1 and Future Cinema 2: Applied Theory at York University, Canada

Flow or Compulsion

It was 4 o’clock on Saturday afternoon when I first decided to upload my notes to the Future Cinema blog, but then well… I had to check my emails first. So, I went to my hotmail account and did so. When I logged out, I saw this news about an amateur prospector who found his fortune in gold, the news seemed tempting enough, so I went for it. While watching the video about the lucky prospector I noticed a clip on the left corner about a squid, not any squid of course, a giant squid. I was curious how big a squid could be and then well you can guess the rest.

Somehow a yellow post-it note on the edge of my monitor caught my eyes, and I glanced at the time. It was 6:10 and I was reading a Wikipedia article about the ancient Greek philosopher Parmenides and the Eleatic school of philosophy. This is not such an unfamiliar experience and unfortunately I have to confront it more often that I wish. I have thought about this type of behaviour when it comes to digital technology so many times and reading Jay Bolter’s article, I was intrigued to understand more about my behaviour toward the Internet. Was I spending two hours of my time in the state of flow that Jay Bolter’s article talks about? What really is happening when we are surfing the net, one video/article after another? How does this engagement with the digital medium work? Is it emotional, compulsive, or just part of a flow?

What is flow?

Reading Jay Bolter’s article I wasn’t still certain about the implications of the concept of flow and how it might work in relation to surfing the Internet. I felt it would be injustice to the author and the article to talk about the flow vs catharsis without truly knowing what flow means. So to fully grasp the concept, I went back to psychologist Mihály Csíkszentmihályi to learn more about the flow. Here are some of the general summaries about the notion of flow that I found:

In simplest terms, flow is a state of ecstasy. It is the effortless automatic spontaneous feeling that you get when you get into an ecstatic space. Flow is the “a state of heightened focus and immersion in activities such as art, play and work.”

How does it feel to be in the flow?

1- Completely involved in what we are doing, focused, concentrated

2- A sense of ecstasy – of being outside everyday reality

3- Great inner clarity – knowing what needs to be done, and how well we are doing.

4- Knowing that the activity is doable – that our skills are adequate to the task.

5- A sense of serenity – no worries about oneself, and a feeling of growing beyond the boundaries of the ego.

6- Timelessness – thoroughly focused on the present, hours seem to pass by in minutes

7- Intrinsic motivation – whatever produces flow becomes its own reward.

To place an example from Mihály Csíkszentmihályi the flow is the space where a composer creates a piece of music, a place where high skills meet high challenge. I am sure any artist has experienced this state one way or another, no matter if it is painting, writing, playing music, dance or other types of creativity. Flow happens in a space where skills become completely transparent and mind diverts the entire focus on the creative process. This is a diagram from Mihály Csíkszentmihályi which describes the state of flow in relation to other behaviours.

It was 4 o’clock on Saturday afternoon when I first decided to upload my notes to the Future Cinema blog, but then well… I had to check my emails first. So, I went to my hotmail account and did so. When I logged out, I saw this news about an amateur prospector who found his fortune in gold, the news seemed tempting enough, so I went for it. While watching the video about the lucky prospector I noticed a clip on the left corner about a squid, not any squid of course, a giant squid. I was curious how big a squid could be and then well you can guess the rest.
Somehow a yellow post-it note on the edge of my monitor caught my eyes, and I glanced at the time. It was 6:10 and I was reading a Wikipedia article about the ancient Greek philosopher Parmenides and the Eleatic school of philosophy. This is not such an unfamiliar experience and unfortunately I have to confront it more often that I wish. I have thought about this type of behaviour when it comes to digital technology so many times and reading Jay Bolter’s article, I was intrigued to understand more about my behaviour toward the Internet. Was I spending two hours of my time in the state of flow that Jay Bolter’s article talks about? What really is happening when we are surfing the net, one video/article after another? How does this engagement with the digital medium work? Is it emotional, compulsive, or just part of a flo

Is surfing on the Internet places me in the state of flow?

I think the answer to this question could widely vary depend on how someone interact with online resources but this is my response to it. I agree with Jay Bolter that flow happens in a space where required skills are neither too high nor too low; this is the main criteria that keeps me engaged in the first place. I understand if browsing the net required answering some hard riddles or solving difficult puzzles I might have been disheartened to continue. But here is where I am not sure about categorizing the behaviour of surfing the net as flow. At least in my case, surfing the net doesn’t come from the seven states of flow in Mihály Csíkszentmihályi’s definition. Although I lose the sense of time while surfing, but I never feel concentrated and focused, or don’t get the sense of great clarity and knowing what needs to be done. In fact most of my surfing behaviour comes through lack of concentration and focus, I barely have any clarity in what I want to see and know or even what it is that I need to do, that’s why I go from one video/ article to the next. Did I have any feeling like ecstasy, serenity, intrinsic motivation when I was surfing earlier this afternoon? Except from a shock of seeing someone’s entire arm ending up in a fish’s mouth I didn’t feel any ecstasy and definitely nothing along the line of serenity and finding intrinsic motivation. I mostly move from one place on the net to another through boredom, apathy, and sometimes a spark of curiosity or a superficial and short-lived anxiety.  Looking at Mihály Csíkszentmihályi’s chart you can see this mental state is placed almost opposite to what flow is and what is should be. Instead, I think most of the time spent surfing the net comes through responding to a compulsive itch, I click on a video because well I feel, I should. How do you feel when you surf the Internet?

Video: Mihály Csíkszentmihályi explaining the flow

Flow – Mihály Csíkszentmihályi

Sara

Sun, January 20 2013 » futurecinema2_2012

2 Responses

  1. Jon January 21 2013 @ 10:25 pm

    When reading the Bolter article on flow my immediate reaction of what he meant by flow was more along the lines of “playing in the sandbox”. I’ve often found when working on a creative project that when I’m fully engaged with the task of creating I’ve felt that deja vu sense of playing. I’m lost in the project and it’s creation. In fact that sense of playing is really integral to the act of creating. I know when I’m on the right track with the project when I’m playing or in the flow because my instincts are focused and I don’t have to think about whatever it is that I’m busy working on. I suppose the reality is that my sense of purpose has been activated by the work. Hours could easily pass and often they will, unfortunately. To use another game analogy, it’s like I’ve discovered the cover of the puzzle box and now all I have to do is figure out how to make the pieces fit in order to put the puzzle together. Frankly it’s the best part of putting together any kind of creative piece for me. That sense of play with the tools at my disposal. I personally can’t recall the same kind of flow when surfing the net. I believe that’s mostly because when surfing the net I’m missing that sense of purpose.

  2. mtozer January 23 2013 @ 7:26 pm

    These questions that you propose in the second paragraph (What really is happening when we are surfing the net, one video/article after another? How does this engagement with the digital medium work? Is it emotional, compulsive, or just part of a flow?) are similar questions that I get when I realize I am aimlessly surfing the net. For me, part is compulsive, part is emotional and part is definitely getting into some sort of ‘Bolter’ flow. I think a lot of it is distraction and boredom. It is so easy to open a new tab and ask anything into the google search that sometimes its hard to resist.

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