Ah, serendipity. It’s one of my favorite words, having been introduced to it in the 60’s music scene with “The Serendipity Singers,” a folk group on the hootenanny circuit. It’s getting a lot of attention today in the media discussion world, where some are lamenting that it will be lost with the eventual disappearance of newspapers. Here’s Jeff Jarvis, who smartly defines serendipity as “unexpected relevance:”
What is serendipity? It’s not a story from left field. It’s not, I think, “the opposite of what you normally consumed.” There’s a reason we find value in the supposedly serendipitous. When I started Entertainment Weekly, I said that our features had to satisfy a curiosity you didn’t know you had — but you end up having it. When we read a paper and find a good story that we couldn’t have predicted we’d have liked, we think that is serendipity. But there’s some reason we like it, that we find it relevant to us. Maybe that relevance is the unknown but now fed curiosity, maybe it’s enjoyment of good writing or a certain kind of tale, maybe the gift of some interesting fact we want to share and gain social equity for, maybe it’s a challenge to our ideas, maybe an answer to a question that has bugged us. In the end, it has value to us; it’s relevant.
Jeff thinks that we find serendipity today mostly through Twitter and Facebook, but I disagree. What I’m finding increasingly difficult to support with these two giants of social media is the time-consuming nature of following the links recommended by my friends, colleagues and those who I follow. This is the opposite of serendipity to me; it’s called work.
Where I find the most “unexpected relevance” today is through my RSS reader, which gives me plenty. In addition to the links, I also get enough to determine — for myself — if it’s relevant for me or not, and that’s what’s missing for me with Twitter and Facebook. It’s also why I absolutely love full-feed RSS. One of my favorite RSS feeds is The Inquisitr from Australia. Duncan Riley’s team always manage to float lots of interesting — and often off-topic — content that makes me smile and informs (and satisfies) my little serendipity brain cells.
So, for me, serendipity hasn’t been lost at all. I get more of it today than ever, and it’ll be fun to watch efforts to create “serendipity machines” through various algorithms. My only problem with that is if it’s a button I must push, it’s not serendipity.
And so it goes.