Alexis Madrigal has a long, thoughtful piece in The Atlantic about something I've remarked on a couple times: the flow-like, yet addictive, experience that we often have when online or playing games:

You start clicking through photos of your friends of friends and next thing you know an hour has gone by. It's oddly soothing, but unsatisfying. Once the spell is broken, I feel like I've just wasted a bunch of time. But while it's happening, I'm caught inside the machine, a human animated GIF: I. Just. Cannot. Stop.

Or maybe it'll come on when I'm scrolling through tweets at night before bed. I'm not even clicking the links or responding to people. I'm just scrolling down, or worse, pulling down with my thumb, reloading, reloading.

Or sometimes, I get caught in the melancholy of Tumblr's infinite scroll.

Are these experiences, as [Biz] Stone would have it, love? The tech world generally measures how much you like a service by how much time you spend on it. So a lot of time equals love.

My own intuition is that this is not love. It's something much more technologically specific that MIT anthropologist Natasha Schüll calls "the machine zone."

I've written about how Csikszenmihalyi's work has been appropriated and truncated by HCI people and game designers interested in the technical description of flow but not its larger moral virtue, and about Schüll's work and machine flow.

In a sense, the subtext of my book is that we need to move from machine flow (or what I called flowish) experiences with devices, to genuine flow– the sort that makes us genuinely happier and more resilient, and in more control of our lives. Maybe it's time for an essay that lays that out explicitly….