The New Digital Zone
So, let me introduce the idea of the digital “zone”.
The zone is a physical and mental state where the digital realm is experienced as a flow state, as useful, often euphoric, and entirely purposeful. When we are in the digital zone, we are immersed in the digital realm, using its processes, and allowing ourselves to conform to its demands and requirements in ways that we experience as in tune with the digital realm.
Many of the things you will read about the digital realm on this blog (and elsewhere) that hint at the digital realm being a place of negative distraction and even addiction, are unravelled when we are in the zone. The digital realm is often framed as a poor copy of the physical realm, as a realm of dubious worth, where our “friends” aren’t authentic, and where our activity is largely superficial.
An increasing number of people, however, are reporting their experience of the digital “zone” as a state they are very satisfied with. The digital realm offers a new kind of experience. Comparing it to the physical world is like saying that swimming is a negative activity compared to sunbathing because you get wet all over. The digital realm does attempt to render and improve upon the physical. However, it also is offering new kinds of experience in its own right.
To be immersed in the digital realm, we allow ourselves to dive, even fall into it. We do not frame it as being “away from” the physical world, as if that were a bad thing to do. We enter digital immersion willingly, seeking out what it has to offer. The reports from this immersion are many and varied. The positive ones have certain aspects in common…
The state we experience is one of pleasing connection, thrilling distraction and multi-tasking, and often something akin to the ability to juggle a dozen things in the air, and where dropping some things have no negative consequences.
In the digital realm we can be in a messaged conversation with someone and suddenly move onto a different task or conversation, leaving the first conversation hanging in the air. We may not answer for hours or even days, or we may not answer at all. In the “zone”, time is not a very present or prominent phenomenon. We flow in the now, and enjoy being in responsive mode, where largely we are responding most to what stimulates us most. Responsibility isn’t to others, but to the strength of the in the moment priority or stimulus.
In the zone we willingly engage in being distracted. We go where we will and enjoy completing tasks in parallel, zipping between them, and cross-fertilising one conversation with content from another.
In the zone, we tune out of the physical, except to drink when we remember or feel like it, or to eat,or to relieve ourselves. Even where our physical bodies are more fully involved (for example,when we use a seventh generation console such as a Wii), we are still immersed in digital content on a screen.
In the zone, we interrupt physical interactions with digital distractions and this is enjoyed, even expected as normal, when the other person we are physically present with is also in the zone.
We feel that this “flitting” enriches our creative life with more variety, and that we are more living on the edge. This is a realm where unexpected and even random stimulus, enhances the experience. We find this helps us to feel more stimulated and we enjoy the euphoria of being “always on” and getting almost instant feedback. We feel more up to date and in touch. We often experience ourselves as being more productive, achieving more, and the sheer number of interactions in the digital realm energises and motivates us.
In the zone we can present our ideal self and get very good at doing this. The zone can give us more confidence. We can also express ourselves more immediately, more directly, often more authentically without the nervous complications of face to face, tactile interaction. This, for us, is a new way to communicate, one that releases us, that gives us permission to take risks with our thoughts, feelings and actions. We experience quicker, more immediate response and feedback, we find action is faster and we can explore threads of meaning and emotion quickly. We can capture physical images and publish our creativity instantaneously and set up a vibrant conversation about what we are seeing (and digitally capturing) physically,between friends and strangers.
In the zone we experience flow, we can book and buy instantly, we can bid and complain, celebrate and flirt. We can also put our ideas, drawings, images, proposals and get instant feedback that feels more immediate, present and honest. We can put unfinished work into the digital realm and offer it to others to develop and even finish. We can connect with strangers without the same risk as a physical meetings.
In the zone we can feel less pressurised, more able to “float”, “fly” and, of course, surf. We can change our mind when we choose without too much consequence and this allows a lot more experimentation.
The digital zone connects us to people at a distance, people we might never usually nor easily meet face to face. In the zone we can become part of a group within seconds. We can find out things within moments, and check the validity of things we aren’t sure are true. We can sample, try out, and even engage in a bit of underground behaviour – an illegal download. We can get a lot of things for free in the digital realm and we enjoy thwarting the big corporations.
In the zone we can write a necessary but tedious email, whilst listening to our favourite music, with the news or a favourite comedy show playing in the corner, and even keep tabs on our social media, keeping two or three conversations going, even as we are typing.
In the zone physical movement isn’t necessary for interpersonal meeting. We tend to wait for people to “appear” on-line. We can pursue several conversations at once. If we create a design and we wish to change it, we do not need to physically erase or screw the paper up and throw it into the bin before reaching for another. We can also cut and paste with a few finger clicks, mix and match, delete, alter, copy and re-imagine. Blowing up and burning in the digital realm is easy.
In the zone, we can split our awareness without feeling guilty. We no longer feel “held” by just one command on our attention. We feel the thrill of teleporting our digital selves from place to place. In the zone we can take a comfort break and then return and it is all still there. In the zone we might use more than one gadget at the same time. In the zone we can be more than one identity, we can take liberties and we can even offend anonymously. We can vote and rate, commit to attend with no consequence if we change our plans at the last minute.
In the zone we feel more free, more mobile, more able. It is the physical world that is the distraction when we are immersed in the digital realm. The digital realm allows our imaginations to range freely, free of the limitations of the gravity-bound physical form.
For many, in the zone, this is no wishful imagination or self-delusion.
We actually earn income, experience a greater and deeper social life. We get things done, save money, become popular, or deliciously hated, we design things and get our creations looked at and read. We connect in ways that enhance our professional and social life. We find our voice, even if we are physically shy. We find that, in the zone, we feel more alive and confident than we have ever done.
This zone hasn’t been described by many people, nor widely academically researched. We have anecdotes and stories. But there’s more criticism of the digital realm as a dangerous place, a place of distraction, that will take you away from “real”.
These early reports are of a new shift in consciousness, and a new set of possibilities. They require a dive into the digital realm, an acceptance and trust of it, a submission to it, in order to experience these new, emerging benefits. This submission may involve a loss of physical freedom, we may become “locked in”, there many even be a degradation of our physical world experience and our abilities in it. Yet I have heard some say to me: “What is wrong with that? This is a new realm, and fully entering a new realm will involve leaving an older realm behind.”
Some are doing this. Many of those reports are reports of celebration and acclaim. They describe the zone in the digital realm as beneficial, unique, and something that its critics simply don’t get because they’ve never fully engaged with it.
The new digital zone may just be, for at least those who dive fully into it, anew step in our evolution.