About RR & IF
Newsletter Home
May 2002
June 2002
July 2002
Aug 2002
Sept 2002
Oct 2002
Nov 2002
Dec 2002
Jan 2003
Feb 2003
Mar 2003
Apr 2003
May 2003
June 2003
July 2003
Aug 2003
Sept 2003
Oct 2003
Dec 2003
~~~ Ramana Rao's INFORMATION FLOW ~~~ Issue 2.4 ~~ April 2003 ~~

Information Flow is a monthly opt-in newsletter.  Your email
address was entered on www.ramanarao.com or www.inxight.com.
You may forward this issue in its entirety.  
Send me your thoughts and questions:	     [email protected]

   "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."

    -- Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi
    -- http://hotwired.lycos.com/collections/web_development/4.09_csik_pr.html 

~~~ IN THIS ISSUE ~~~ April 2003 ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

* Stupid Survey
* Revisiting Flow
* Flow Books
* The 49 Classics of Information Flow

~~~ Stupid Survey ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Of course I don't mean only stupid people take the survey, but
rather that the survey may be stupid.  To not imposed on all of
you, if your last name has an R in it (now you see that I can't
be intelligent and think that the survey is for stupid people),
please answer the following questions:

Do you know what flow is?
Do you know what a blog and/or a wiki is?
Did you hear about these things in this newsletter?

BTW, I won't think you stupid if you answer and there isn't an R
in your last name.

~~~ Revisiting Flow ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ 

I've always liked puns and other forms of language humor in
general.  And asserting the right, I guess, to be called a geek,
I some times find myself the only one laughing at a line.  This
never bothers me, even when I said the line.  I'm really much
more bothered when I'm the only one *not* laughing at something.

Puns are about surprising ambiguities.  Ambiguities are about
meaning several things at once.  In some cases, ambiguities are
just confusions, and reflect a lack of care.  In other cases, you
really are after all the senses, and the fortune of finding them
captured together gives you economy, complexity, resonance, and a
deeper sense of meaning.

I selected Information Flow as the name for this newsletter
meaning several things, which I've explored a bit, but it's time
to revisit the idea.  I've been after three main senses in the
concept of Information Flow:

  a  social process       -of- creating, sharing, using information
 an  individual process   -of- sensemaking or knowledge pursuit
  a  psychological state  -of- optimal experience

The first two I've explored in several issues, while the third
I've touched only lightly.  Yet it resonates the most deeply for
me.  In this sense, Information Flow is about the state of mind
achieved by a person as he or she tries to perform at a high
level of performance in intellectual work.

The concept of flow, described in the intro quote, comes from the
work of the psychologist, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi.  I read his
first book for general audiences ten years or so ago.  The book,
Flow, and his later books have been quite successful, so there's
a good chance you've been exposed.  If the ideas seem
commonsense, it might be because the ideas have all found their
way into the popular imagination by now.  And also because some
of the positive philosophy was expressed partially, if not
carefully studied, by earlier well-known psychologists including

Csikszentmihalyi has researched the psychological state of flow
across several decades with students and colleagues in hundreds
of studies.  The research identifies a number of external factors
that lead to the greater possibility of flow experiences.
Certain "flow activities"---including games, sporting activities,
artistic performances---are more likely to lead to flow.  These
activities 1) have concrete goals and manageable rules 2) allow
for adjusting opportunities for action to capacities 3) provide
clear feedback on progress and 4) screen out distractions and
make concentration possible.

Over the years, I've heard many of the best user interface
researchers and designers refer to flow directly or indirectly.
In fact, just pulling out key elements of these factors including
goals, rules, actions, capacities, feedback and so on, it's easy
to find these descriptive factors expressed as prescriptive
guidelines through out the design and human computer interaction

I'm not suggesting that we take the elements of flow framework
and apply them detail by detail to the enterprise of designing
tools for sensemaking, though that doesn't sound like a bad idea
to me.  Instead my bigger point is that flow can be viewed as a
design goal and the frequency of occurrence of flow as the metric
of success.  We should design tools that make us feel like we are
flying as we engage in our sensemaking activities.

~~~ The Flow Books ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

A good chunk of me hates self-help books, but just like most
people, I can't help but want to be helped.  The first mainstream
Flow book feeds nicely into such a complex of needs.  Not high on
the hokey-meter, nor on the pokey-meter.  [I'm pretty sure an
editor would delete that last line justifiably.]

I would recommend Flow for anybody.  It explains the general
principles of flow, which are quickly understood and appreciated.
Beyond this, the book is fun to read because it covers the ideas
from a variety of angles (e.g. historical, cultural, personal)
and because it nicely tells the tales of many years of research.
BTW, reading is a typical flow activity, and I certainly felt
that I was flowing when I read this book.

Some people may prefer the more distilled, perhaps more
directly-applicable book called Finding Flow.  The other listed
books look at Flow in different contexts.  I bought The Evolving
Self years ago, but still haven't read it.  It explores how we
might use the concept of Flow to steer ourselves toward a better
society.  The other two books might be better first reads if you
are more interested in either creative geniuses or business
leaders.  My guess is that you will get the basic concepts and
sufficient examples in any of these books.

~> Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience

~> Finding Flow: The Psychology of Engagement With Everyday Life  
~> The Evolving Self

~> Creativity: Flow and the Psychology of Discovery and Invention

~> Good Business: Leadership, Flow and the Making of Meaning

~~~ 49 Classics on Information Flow ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Before the Internet became the Internet, I had access to perhaps
one of the finest Intranets of all times at Xerox PARC in the
early eighties.  There were amazing documents available, and it
really deepened my appreciation of directly reaching the ideas of
other living people through documents lying around on networks.

And to top things off there was a great library at PARC as
measured in the quality of the librarians.  Once I asked one of
them, Kathy Jarvis, about famous papers.  She pulled out a folder
of papers with the word "Seminal" scrawled on a bunch of Xerox
manuscripts.  Many of these are now well-known because of various
popular historical accounts and because the Internet is now full
of people that also found these documents.

Paul Saffo says the future isn't evenly distributed. Marc Rettig
adds that the past isn't evenly distributed.  I thought it'd be
fun to return to many of the most important or inspirational
papers related to the mission of building sensemaking tools.

I'm not going to give away the 49 classics yet---meaning (i)
reveal or really meaning (ii) use up the count---until I have
time to think about it more and get lots of input from others
(hint, hint).  The more pressing challenge is going to be to
ensure that there is free or inexpensive access to these
documents some where electronically.  One sure would hope that
the classics would be easily available, but we shall see.

Since I have no grounds to self-appoint myself to such a project
of annointment, I reserve all rights to undo any or all acts.
I'll start with some of the earliest papers and a few others that
I think will be less known.  I've already discovered that I can't
find web pointers in the time I have.  

~> As We May Think by Vannevar Bush, 1945

~> Human-Machine Symbiosis by J.C.R. Licklider, 1960
   [searching it] 
~> Doug Engelbart vision, NLS, Augment
   [searching down the papers: 

     D.C. Engelbart. A conceptual framework for the augmentation
     of man's intellect. In Howerton and Weeks, editors, Vistas
     in Information Handling, volume 1, pages 1-29, Spartan
     Books, Washington, 1963.  

     D.C. Engelbart and W.K English. A research center for
     augmenting human intellect. In Proc. AFIPS Conf., pages
     395-410, 1968.]

~> Microelectronics and the Personal Computer, Alan Kay (Dynabook)
   [searching down 1977 Scientific American article]
~> The Magical Number Seven, Plus or Minus Two: Some Limits on
   Our Capacity for Processing Information by George Miller, 1956

~> Why a diagram is (sometimes) worth 10,000 word. Larkin, J. H.,
   & Simon, H. A. (1987). Cognitive Science, 11, 65-99.  

~> The Sciences of the Artificial by Herbert Simon 

~> Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience
   [I'd wish for a 20 page classic paper, but the book gets a place]

Ramana Rao is Founder and CTO of Inxight Software, Inc.  
Copyright (c) 2003 Ramana Rao.  All Rights Reserved.
You may forward this issue in its entirety.

See:  http://www.ramanarao.com
Send:   [email protected]
Archive:  http://www.ramanarao.com/informationflow/archive/ 
Subscribe:  mailto:[email protected]
Unsubscribe:  mailto:[email protected]