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I love the internet

I hate the expression ‘surfing’ the internet. We are not bowl cut blond 60s hippies riding the waves of information like we’re on an LSD trip. That kind of Beach Boys subtext probably seemed endearing when the internet was new and we thought of it as an occasional pastime. Now that the internet contains everything from raccoon videos to the dark web and we spend up to 25 hours a week online, the expression seems misleading. Now we wade waist deep in the internet.

However, I can identify with the experience of jumping from one internet thing to another, following digital bread crumbs without specific purpose. I call it falling down the rabbit hole. Daily, I disappear down some meandering path following blog posts and wikipedia entries without knowing where I am going or where I will end up. First The Guardian and an hour later I’m reading about cryptocurrency, Isaac Newton or pumpkin bread.

Does this happen to you?

I’m trying to figure out is if this habit of mine is beneficial or malevolent. I feel like it’s one of the few times that I seem to reach ‘flow’, that immersed focused state where time fades and you are completely absorbed. You forget about yourself, your need to pee and your aching numb butt sat on the kitchen stool. ‘Flow’ is a term coined by the fantastically named Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi (I urge you to Wikipedia him and listen to how his name is pronounced, it’s beautiful…follow the rabbit), a Hungarian psychologist who has written a book on the phenomenon.

I’ve only skimmed the book but I’ve gleaned enough to understand that he is describing an enriching mental state important for creativity and labour. Whereas I’m using the term to describe what seems a passive activity- following internet links from browser tab to browser tab. It doesn’t appear that this activity really qualifies as highly challenging or requiring a high skill level. Real flow, according to Csikszentmihalyi, comes when you use complex skills to work on a challenging project and the difficulty of the problem matches perfectly with your skill level. You are engaged but not out of your depth.

flow psychology concentration

So, I realise that I’m using the term incorrectly but I stand by my choice.

For example, earlier today I opened Kottke– the perfect embodiment of the rabbit hole- and clicked through to a website called Donate Your Tab that mines your computers CPU while you faff about on your laptop and then donates cryptocurrency gathered to various charities. Fascinating. I have no idea how any of that really works but it seems to suggest that we could generate money as an offshoot of using the internet, which very little extra effort. That’s an exciting idea and I would like to understand it better. So I follow the rabbit of my curiosity and read about Monero, and Mike Bodge, who designed the site.

I feel like I have learned something from this excursion into digital currency, but am I confusing relaxation with flow? Or worse, boredom and flow? And I am kidding myself that I am learning from these daily wanderings or is this another version of scrolling mindlessly through Instagram?

Am I confusing relaxation with flow? Or worse, boredom? And I am kidding myself that I am learning from these daily wanderings or is reading the wikipedia entry for Bitcoin just another version of scrolling mindlessly through Instagram?

Did you know that the invention of Bitcoin has been linked to a group called the Cypherpunks and a person or persons using the name Satoshi Nakamoto? There is speculation as to who actually invented the open-source software behind Bitcoin.

That’s interesting. I’ve definitely learnt something new. If anything the whole experience brings me joy.

Absolutely, I should be careful not to spend too much time ensconced in reading online, if it comes at the expense of my work and my relationships. I should make sure to be choosing my click throughs discriminately. But overall, I feel that the design of the internet is an incredible opportunity for us to explore ideas and learn in a freeform way that was much harder before, and maybe we don’t acknowledge that enough. I don’t believe that falling down the rabbit hole is a mind numbing waste of time if it fuels my curiosity and widens my knowledge.

It feels a little unnatural to be so positive about this question, but I’m going to take example from Louis CK and keep my joy. What do you think? Am I wrong?

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