I am continuing to work my way through Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi’s book “Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience.” When I read the following sentences last night, I thought about blogging and the writing environment of the read/write web. The introductory sentence to the following paragraph on page 131 belies the fact that the text was written before the emergence of blogging. (The original copyright was 1990.)

In today’s world we have come to neglect the habit of writing because so many other media of communication have taken its place. Telephones and tape recorders, computers and fax machines are more efficient in conveying the news.

We certainly continue to live in a media-centric society, but the advent of blogging has changed the ways and frequency with which many people write, myself included. The remainder of Csikszentmihalyi’s paragraph is quite applicable to me as a blogging writer and digital storyteller, using both typed text as well as spoken audio recordings. These activities help me process the world in which I live and the experiences I have each day. For me, this has become a vital process that helps me make sense of the world. I agree with his contention that the natural state of the world is one of entropy or chaos. We strive, through various strategems, to make sense of the world and order it in a way we can process and comprehend. Csikszentmihalyi was writing in this paragraph about longhand writing, but I think his ideas can apply equally well to blogging:

If the only point to writing were to transmit information, then it would deserve to become obsolete. But the point of writing is to create information, not simply to pass it along. In the past, educated persons used journals and personal correspondence to put their experiences into words, which allowed them to reflect on what had happened during the day. The prodigiously detailed letters so many Victorians wrote are an example of how people created patterns of order out of the mainly random events impinging on their consciousness. The kind of material we write in diaries and letters does not exist before it is written down. It is the slow, organically growing process of thought involved in writing that lets the ideas emerge in the first place.

This is certainly true of many ideas I reflect on in my blog and through my podcast. By articulating ideas in written and spoken forms, new ideas and new syntheses of ideas emerge for me that are central to my own learning process.

fountain pen journal entry

Csikszentmihalyi’s ideas about the value of intrinsic motivation when learning also resonates with me in the context of blogging. He writes on page 134, in the context of people studying history:

Knowledge that is seen to be controlled from the outside is acquired with reluctance and it brings no joy.

The contrary, of course, is that when knowledge has an internal locus of control: When I as a learner perceive I am controlling the content, pace, and direction of my learning, there is great joy to be realized in that learning act.

I have been reflecting for some time about the amazing power of web hyperlinked writing, and I’m intrigued to read what others like Doug Noon, Miguel Guhlin, Tom Hoffman, and others have shared lately about the complexity and power of blog writing. Susan Ettenheim on Teachers Teaching Teachers actually highlighted this conversation thread for me initially. The idea that connects with with me most is “intertextual links,” which Tom wrote about and Doug extended on. I have sensed for some time that in many cases (but certainly not always) the most useful blog posts include hyperlinks to other ideas. When I blog, I typically make a conscious effort to include hyperlinks– intertextual links– possibly other ideas and experiences I’ve shared in the past, but also the ideas and experiences of others. Digital social networking, including blogging, is powerful for many reasons but basic among these are the CONNECTIONS they permit learners to identify, understand, and follow further if desired.

There is great joy to be experienced in this type of learning. Online, I find myself at times “lost” in a condition that is likely analogous to Csikszentmihalyi’s concept of “flow.” As I follow a thread of conversation or an idea, hyperlinks can carry me far afield from my original starting place and often provide opportunities for me to make new and deeper “intertextual links” between ideas than I’ve made before. This is the essence of web-based hyperlinked learning for me, I think. The fact that these experiences are then shared with an audience (who is frequently interactive, thankfully) makes this learning environment like no other I’ve experienced.

Silent Sustained Reading

Educational tasks are often difficult to mandate from “on high” while preserving a sense of intrinsic motivation on the part of the learners. To maintain or promote a sense of intrinsic motivation, I think it is very important to give learners choices about their content of study. Reading is a perfect example. Relatively fewer students are intrinsically motivated to read an assigned novel or textbook excerpt than become intrinsically motivated during a free reading time in school when they are allowed to choose their texts. When I taught 4th grade, we had some time set aside each day for “DEAR” time: drop everything and read. That period of SSR (silent-sustained reading) was one of my favorite parts of the day. Thankfully, because of an evening technology fast I volunteered for at the end of last year, I’ve rediscovered the joy of non-digital SSR at home! (Hence the opportunity for this reflection on Csikszentmihalyi’s book!)

A similar idea of providing room for student choice in studying and researching topics needs to be followed. When learners have personal interest in a topic, it is more likely they will experience intrinsic motivation in writing. I think intrinsic motivation as well as background knowledge and personal experiences relating to the subject are important in forming intertextual links.

When activities are undertaken on a voluntary basis, rather than a coerced one, I think the chances for intertextual links to be formed and shared probably goes up markedly. I agree with Miguel, who writes:

… blogging IS a set of intellectual habits and skills that ARE worth learning for themselves.

In bringing further order and control to consciousness, in permitting the formation of intertextual links to new as well as older ideas, in permitting interaction with a global audience whose feedback and thoughts add value and richness to the ideological focus of the moment, and overall, providing a powerful, interactive venue for reflection and making sense of our rapidly changing world… blogging is certainly an activity I love and hope to pursue as well as share (encourage in others) for the foreseeable future. :-)


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  • http://www.mguhlin.net Miguel Guhlin

    Considering we jumped into the blogging divide at similar times, practically holding hands, it is gratifying to find you agree with me. I often question the wisdom of any endeavour I participate in…while the unexamined life may not be worth living, blogging sure as heck is a life transformer.

    Listening to Will Richardson share his story (edtechlive.com) about the process he’s gone through, the changes he’s survived, I’m worried about what is at the end of the road for us. It’s clear we won’t survive the blogging process unscathed. A good thing? I pray so.

    In the meantime, I’m having a ball. I honestly can’t remember anytime in my life when I’ve written so much and it hurt so little and was read by so many. In seeking out a definition for joy, I ran across this:

    Spiritual joy is a reflection of the basic dynamic by which the universe seeks to overcome the paradox of one-versus-many. All is one, yet each thing is separate and distinct – this paradox lies at the heart of being, and one view of our ultimate purpose is to overcome this distinction and completely manifest both our unique separateness and our oneness at all times. Seeking harmony between the interior and exterior worlds is the way to fufill this purpose.

    Source: Goertzel

    Blogging sure seems one way to, as Robert Quinn in Deep Change writes, align our inner reality with the outer. Doing so is empowering.

    The question is, are our schools capable or even the right places to accomplish such radical alignment? Or should this be the province of church and family?

    Hmm…

    Thanks,
    Miguel Guhlin
    Around the Corner-MGuhlin.net
    http://www.mguhlin.net

  • http://www.PaulJRichardson.com Paul

    What a fantastic book! I loved the ideas this guy had, and wish I had the discipline to get back into reading for pleasure now (instead of some day in the ‘distant future’).

    I agree completely with the BLOGNITIVE PROCESSING model and that by reflecting we both create and review.

    Thanks for a another really cool post Wes!

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