Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Pink’s Drive on Motivation and Its Implications for Interactive Media

Pink’s Drive on Motivation and Its Implications for Interactive Media

Until quite recently, I always assumed that people would naturally wish to engage with an interactive art piece. Plonk them in front of some exhibit and they are bound to let their childlike curiosity take over and lead them through a wonderful experience. Right? Not always. Even when faced with something as provoking as a massive fire-breathing sculpture, quite a few people pass over the chance to press the button and make the world a little more brightly lit, if only for a short period of time.

The question becomes one of engagement and motivation. Daniel H. Pink’s Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us approaches these topics from a business perspective, but his revelations also touch on other aspects of human interaction. He differentiates between two categories of behavior: Type X, dependent on extrinsic motivation, and Type I, dependent on intrinsic motivation. Extrinsic motivation is the if you do this, then you get this type. Intrinsic, on the other hand, relies on “the inherent satisfaction of the activity itself.” Remember when you were a kid and you finished a puzzle, just because. And how that felt was...? Cool, aka inherently satisfying.

You can’t make someone engage with an artwork through an external reward system. The desire for engagement must be drawn out from intrinsic qualities and the key to the development of an optimal experience through intrinsic quality is flow. Mihalyi Csikszentmihalyi worked towards developing a conceptual framework for this facet of experience. Pink says, “Most important, in flow, the relationship between what a person has to do and what he could do was perfect...That balance produced a degree of focus and satisfaction that easily surpassed other, more quotidian, experiences. In flow, people lived to deeply in the moment, and felt so utterly in control, that their sense of time, place, and even self melted away.”

The implications for flow in interactive media are complex when taking meaning, context, and interaction design into consideration, but some tenets drawn from Pink’s work can provide a basis for further conversation. He describes three elements for optimizing one’s work life: Autonomy, Mastery, and Purpose. Translating this into the realm of interactive digital media requires a certain flexibility of thought.

Autonomy relates the amount of control the participant has within the system. Having a definite order to the interactions delimits the potential of a piece to an experience akin to turning pages in a digital book. However, the very nature of an interactive digital experience as a piece of engineering as well as art places real limitations on the design.

Mastery means being able to improve. In the case of interaction, this could mean “getting the hang of it.” But, on the level of cognitive reconstruction, this could also mean developing an understanding as to the intention of the artist/engineer with emergent goals becoming possible after multiple instances of interaction. This approach also becomes more palatable when we include Pink’s annotation to mastery, that it is an asymptote.

Which leads us to purpose. This could include living an optimal life, connecting with other members of humanity, intuiting, or all of the above. This is difficult to define because the purpose of art and the purpose of someone interacting with art is up to debate and interpretation.

Perhaps the role of art is to share a purpose.

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