Immersion, Flow, And Magic Spells (And How Blogs Get In The Way)

For me, the concept of flow is vitally important in many areas of life.

By flow, I mean getting immersed in an experience to a degree where you shut out pretty much everything else, and your focus is only on that one activity.

As well as beautiful escape, I would also say it feels like a way to distort time almost too, every moment is somehow extended and enjoyed to the full, whilst at the same time the overall session flies past.

The obvious example where this happens in my life (and I expect yours) is in making photographs.

That experience of hunting for compositions, then raising the camera to frame exactly what we want within the four edges of our screen or viewfinder –  nothing more and nothing less – before releasing the shutter, can be meditative, cathartic and euphoric all at once.

The flow comes not just in each framing and capture, but in the overall photowalk that a series of these connected moments together form, like precious jewels strung in succession on a beautiful necklace.

I have a similar, yet different experience riding a bicycle. Here the flow tends to be more low key, but more steady, the rhythm of my pedal stroke and the steady sensation of the wind on my face providing a kind of immersion.

With both of the above, when the flow is right (or perhaps when it’s both deep and smooth enough at once), the effect can seem almost like a magical spell is being cast.

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A third area where I like to try to find this flow is with the written word. When I write for 35hunter, I seek to provide the same kind of immersion and flow for you the reader.

Sometimes I get too technical, or overly wordy, but hopefully more often than not I write well enough that you are fully engaged whilst reading, rather than skimming through half absent-mindedly like you might a TV guide or holiday brochure.

A large part of this is about the words I use and how fluidly they read.

But from my experience of reading other blogs, the look and layout of the blog itself also plays a very significant part in providing an experience that’s enjoyed without interruption.

Like many things, it’s sometimes easier to say what you don’t like, rather than what you do.

So here are some of the features of other blogs that I personally find really disrupt my immersion and flow in reading them, and why I’ve tried to avoid them – or at least minimise them – with 35hunter.

White text on a dark background.

Whilst this can initially give quite an atmospheric look, it quickly hurts my eyes and makes reading longer posts uncomfortable. Plus when I look away I still see the words dancing about in front of me for half a minute. It doesn’t encourage me to spend long on the blog. I prefer very pale backgrounds with black or dark grey text that are more gentle on the eyes.

Text that’s too small, or in a font that’s difficult to read.

With the range of easy to read fonts available these days, there’s really no excuse for making your readers struggle in this way. It helps to take a look at how your blog appears on different devices too as many people (perhaps the majority) will be viewing via a tablet or phone.

The main text column is pushed to one side.

On an iPad or phone this isn’t such an issue as you can resize and move the screen so it’s central. But you still have to resize and drag it. And since personally I do still spend the majority of my time on the larger screen of a MacBook or ChromeBook, I just like to have the text I’m reading central.

I know some blogs have say, the main text column on the left, then a narrow side bar on the right for extras. This looks ok at the top of the page, but once you scroll down past the content in the sidebar, you’re left with a block of text on the left and an obvious blank column on the right. It just doesn’t look right (to me) and this visual imbalance is distracting to that overall flow.

Multiple sidebar distractions.

Talking of sidebars, I greatly dislike blogs where there is so much in the sidebar(s) that again it distracts you from the main text and images of each post. Do you really want me to click through to your social media account on someone else’s server and governed by someone else’s rules, or stay and enjoy my experience right here on your own personal blog?

Even if I try to ignore these sidebars, if they have too much in them they still  just take my focus off the main text. Plus as mentioned above, many blogs are two column, and once you scroll down past the stuff in the sidebar the main text is shifted to one side, not central.

Adverts.

Oh, where to start? My view is if you have a personal blog, there shouldn’t be any adverts. Why are you helping someone else sell stuff, at the expense (which is vast in my view) of spoiling that immersion and flow experience of visitors reading your blog?

I don’t mind if people have a link for their own book, prints, and so on, that’s different. It’s just the generic “targeted” ads, that are often laughably poorly aimed, so they degrade (for me) the overall quality and feel of the blog.

Imagine going to your favourite restaurant which you enjoy for its atmosphere and decor as much as the food, then you glance around and see a huge poster one one wall saying “learn this one trick to reduce belly fat for good”, then notice the opposite wall with another proclaiming “play this for just one minute and see why everyone’s addicted!” The flow is broken, possible forever.

Typos, poor spelling and grammar. 

Of course no-one is perfect and I have on numerous occasions gone back over a post I’ve already published and found the odd typo or missing word. But when you read, say, a 500 word blog post and it has 5-10 errors, it just comes across as sloppy. It’s worse if you’re trying to speak with authority about a topic.

If you’re not focused and attentive enough to not miss an error every paragraph, then how do we know that you’re any more focused and attentive about the subject you’re writing about?

If you know your English isn’t amazing, then try using a spelling and grammar checker and/or have a friend proof read your posts. I know this sounds incredibly picky, but we’re talking here about the kind of features that disrupt flow and break that spell, and for me, unfortunately, this is a significant one.

Sharing every photo from every shoot.

This is more specific to photography blogs of course, and alas it seems to be getting more common. I don’t understand why some blogs have a post about, say a photowalk to a new place, or to test a new camera, and then proceed to share all 24/36/50+ images from that shoot, regardless of the quality.

What does it show, except that the camera can make this many pictures, and that you have very little restraint in your editing.

By sharing perhaps just the best three or four, we are far more likely to appreciate the photographs, your skills as a photographer (and editor!), the place you visited, and the equipment you used. Dumping the whole lot dilutes all of this.

These days our lives or so invaded with incessant demands for our attention.

So finding blogs and websites that still offer a place of respite and escape, quirky corners of the internet where we can immerse and lose ourselves for a few minutes – or a few hours – are becoming all the more rare, and all the more precious.

I try to make 35hunter one of these places, by avoiding the flow breakers I’ve outlined above as much as possible. I hope that’s how you find it to be.

What qualities make a blog or website valuable to you as somewhere you can lose yourself? What features break that flow, that spell for you?

Please let us know in the comments below (and don’t forget to tick the “Notify me of new comments via email” box to follow the conversation).

Thanks for looking. Please share this post with others you feel will enjoy it too. If you’re interested, this is what I’m into right now.

12 thoughts on “Immersion, Flow, And Magic Spells (And How Blogs Get In The Way)”

    1. Many thanks for your comments, I’m delighted you enjoyed the post.

      Anything else in particular you really enjoying seeing (or not seeing!) in the blogs you follow?

  1. Sure.

    Thinking. Writing. Laying the writing out as Lao-Tse would. Taoist, as a stream wends. Around clutter, clamor, obstacle, without effort, mindful and unmindful.

    Anything else is a polyglot fan-folded sheet of appliance instructions.

    1. Actually that’s a great analogy for the experience of browsing online, once you get through the sections that are of absolutely no use to you as they’re in a foreign language (metaphorically, ie about topics you have no interest in, as well as literally,) then even the ones (photography sites) that are of use are so often just a regurgitation of the manual of the camera/gear being discussed. I just think we have a duty to try to make our blogs more interesting, more immersive, more special than that, and not be “just another camera blog”.

  2. I have my own pet peeves on blogs. A few that I read don’t allow comments. It’s so disappointing when a post generates a response in me that I can’t leave. Or when I want to just say, “wow, nice work” in encouragement.

    I’m with you on white-on-black and on tiny fonts. Fortunately, I read 90% of the time in my feed reader, which normalizes all of that away.

    You and I disagree on advertising. My two little dumb ads at the bottom of each post generate enough income to pay for my domain name and for WordPress Premium each year, plus a little extra. It’s nice to have the blog pay for itself. I think my two little ads are only minimally distracting. It’s possible for me to place an ad at the top of each post and on the side, too, but I don’t, as they begin to ruin the look and usability of my blog.

    I’m a man who, deep down, wants the world to be as I want it. For me, I’ve had to choose as a path to sanity taking it as it is. Blogs that are too hard for me to read — I just don’t read them anymore.

    1. Thanks for your thoughts as always Jim. Yes that’s a good one about comments, I can think of a blog I follow that used to allow comments then stopped, because the blog shifted focus from being more community based, to being a more personal showcase for the photographer’s work. The latter is fine, it was just disappointing to me because I gained a huge amount from reading the comments on older posts.

      I think sometimes people just don’t have the time and inclination to have a community type blog, it’s more a simple channel for them to publish their work. Another blog I follow got so overwhelmed trying to respond to every comment, and visit the blog of everyone who commented, they just abandoned the whole thing and disappeared for most of last year. Now they’ve returned, with an explanation, but new posts have comments disabled. I understand the reasoning completely, and continue to follow, but yes it is good to be able to comment on posts you particularly enjoy. For me much worse is a blog that does allow comments but the author doesn’t respond. That’s annoying, and really just rude!

      I know what you mean about WP Reader, and it is a convenient way to read all blogs in one place, with a legible, consistent layout. But I like the atmosphere and look and design of blogs (I believe we share a love of fonts and typefaces?) and all of that is part of what makes certain blogs feel unique and special, and a place I want to hang out. WP Reader just homogenises everything and takes some of that magic away, so generally I use email notifications to follow then click through to read the full post on the blog itself, bypassing WP Reader.

      Yes, we agree to disagree on the ads.  I was on a photo site the other day with a massive ad for Sony cameras at the top (which followed you down even when you scrolled down) in the right hand side bar, then again at the bottom. Just horrendous. I didn’t finish the article, needless to say!

      Your last thoughts, yes this is exactly the point I’m making with this post, if a blog has too many obstacles to me enjoying it (however great the actual words might be) I stop reading it. One or two of the above I might tolerate if I like the rest of the blog (like your ads!) but two or three and it just turns me away.

    1. Thanks William, that is incredibly powerful writing, at once enlightening and disturbing. I consider myself a focused person who likes to keep things simple (not too many balls in the air at once) but repeatedly find myself “distracted”.

      I need to read it again a couple of times…

      In the meantime yes I consciously try to make 35hunter a place where people can immerse themselves without being distracted.

  3. I agree with you about all of these. I pay to keep ads off my blog. The ones that make money (Wordads) are so ugly. I spent a lot of time tweaking my blog’s design and it’s looked the same for years.

    1. Thanks Julie. I pay for a WP plan too, the main reason being to keep it ad free.

      I think your header on your blog is great, really distinctive and helps set the mood for reading. It’s an excellent example of a blog where so much is lost visually by simply using WP Reader to read everything, and this is why I use email notifications for new blog posts, and nearly always then click through and read blog posts on the blog itself.

  4. Personally I’m not bothered by ads. I appreciate that some people will need a way to fund their blog, so of course a little bit of income will help them do that, and hopefully they will keep blogging!

    I also like when people put social media links in their sidebars. If I like their blog, then normally I would like to interact with them outside it, and I spend more time on Twitter, Flickr and Instagram than I do on WordPress.

    My biggest pet peeve is definitely incorrect grammar, and more specifically, using apostrophes in the wrong way, not using commas where you should, and using the wrong tense. Also, not knowing the difference between “there”, “their” and “they’re”, but fortunately I don’t come across that very often!

    1. Hi Mel, thanks for your thoughts. I agree that some ads are far worse than others. I still prefer not seeing any. Some sites these days are to me pretty much impenetrable because of all the ads. I don’t know how anyone can read them when they’re top, side and bottom – and some even with those ones that slide up across like a window over the text…

      I understand what you mean about the social media links, but sometimes they’re more prominent than the blog’s actual content. It’s like the blogger wants me to go anywhere else rather than settle down and read the content!

      This of course also depends on people’s preference and use of social media, I know you use it far more than me, so it’s more useful for you. But personally I think you could still have all this stuff down the bottom, after the main content.

      Apostrophes are so often wrong. The most common one has to be using “it’s” when they mean belonging to it, rather than abbreviating “it is”.

      Have you noticed just generally around towns, on vans etc, how many people put a random apostrophe at the end of any word ending with the letter “s”, so it might says “Mr Brush & Son – Decorators'”? What’s that about?

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