You know the expression, “time flies when you’re having fun!” The Greeks had two words to express time, Chronos and kairos. Chronos was the word used to refer to clock time, time that can be measured in days, hours, minutes and seconds. Think of chronos as quantitative time, and part of words like chronology, chronic, or chronicler, words that imply a specific reference to ‘time ticking away.’
In Greek mythology, Chronos is:
pictured as an elderly man with a scythe at his side, sitting at a desk looking at an hourglass. (click quote for reference)
Whereas kairos was used to express something more qualitative about time. It could be used to express the timeliness of the situation. What will I do with the deadline for this project? The timing of my response to this email is important. These references to time are more about the right time to do something. Time is referenced as having more to do with the quality of something.
In Greek mythology, Kairos was:
The other way to think about kairos is the passage of time when you are in the flow, a term used by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, a psychologist who has done extensive research on the state of being. Being in a state of flow can be thought of as doing something you enjoy and losing track of time. (Watch his TED talk below for more insight into flow)
So think how time moves when you are doing something that is effortless, interesting, captivating, or absorbing. As you think about times when you were in “flow,” what comes to mind? Use the Google Form below to submit responses to the question. I will reply to the post with answers I receive.
What about situations, events or activities where time seems to move so slowly because you are disconnected, daydreaming, or watching the clock? Again, submit your responses in the Google Form below and I will share them at a reply to the post.
How do we design for “kairos” experiences in which we are in the flow of the situation? Where there is no sense of time ticking away. In fact, we are surprised at how much time has passed when we finally notice it; time seems to fly.
I think there is a connection to mindfulness in designing for a kairos experience. When time flies we are often immersed in the present, not thinking about the past or future. The present moment captivates us or holds our attention. Using meditation or mindfulness activities can be one way to prepare ourselves to live in the present.
I would imagine, although I haven’t surveyed students on this question, that most students are disengaged from many of their classroom experiences on a daily basis. A 2004 Gallup poll showed that most teens associate school with boredom and fatigue. While a 2015 survey reported on USA Today, suggested that most students are tired, stressed and bored in school. This survey, conducted by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation with support from Lady Gaga’s Born This Way Foundation, was of 22,000 students across the US. A simple survey, one of the questions asked respondents: “How do you currently feel in school?” Eight of the top ten responses to the survey were negative. Why is this?
Do we think curriculum designers in corporations, state departments of education, or for that matter a typical teacher is designing curricula or lessons to elicit “flow?” I think the answer to that question is a resounding NO. Why not?
The answer might be reasonably simple, that isn’t their priority. They are designing for students to remember information, master standards, and perform well on tests, but not to be totally excited, enthusiastic, or in flow during a learning moment. Some students may experience those things in traditional classrooms, but they are not the majority. The designers are not designing for:
- doing something useful
If we want school to be filled with moments of flow we will need to design learning experiences differently than we do now. Assuming we want to engage the 22,000 students who took the survey referenced above. I wonder if students would say that a Lady Gaga concert is boring or would they say they were in a flow moment. Probably the later. I can only imagine that she designs her concerts so the audience has a kairos experience. Time flies! Some say that they tuned into this year’s Super Bowl to be able to watch Lady Gaga. Others say it was the best halftime show of all time. Personally, I thought Bruce Springsteen’s was better, except for the theatrics.
What if we designed school so that students had flow experiences? What would that look like? We certainly ought to challenge ourselves to try realizing that we are designing for daily experiences not once a year for 13 minutes. Kairos should be our goal!