Is Serendipity Lost Online?

from the i'd-say-it's-been-gained dept

I’m a big fan of Damon Darlin, at the NY Times, but I’m a bit confused by his latest, claiming that serendipity is being stamped out online, because people just go find stuff they want, rather than randomly discover stuff. Perhaps I’m just speaking for myself, but I end up finding random stuff all the time — whether it’s from seeing random links on Twitter/Digg/Fark or other sites, having people send me stuff or just chatting with people. I’d argue that I end up finding a lot more that’s new and interesting than I did before the internet was around. Darlin tries to brush off the fact that people get stuff from friends on social networks, by saying that’s “filtered” by who you choose to follow, but his own example of serendipity at the beginning of the article is: “When we walk into other people’s houses, we peruse their bookshelves, look at their CD cases and sneak a peek at their video collections.” Isn’t that “filtered” by whose homes you happen to walk into? I walk into strangers’ homes a lot less often than I hear about a new book, album or movie from someone on Twitter.

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Comments on “Is Serendipity Lost Online?”

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Chris Wahl (profile) says:

Randomly Discover Stuff

Frankly, poking around someone’s home to “discover” things sounds a bit creepy, although I think I get what the author is trying to convey.

Between Yahoo Pipes, several blogs (and one blag), twitter (including TwitScoop), and various online news sites, it’s actually very hard to not be bombarded with new, random discoveries around the clock. Certainly better than the occasional visit to a friend’s house.

Rick says:

Funny thing is...

I end up hearing about new random stuff every day from (guess where)… my Techdirt feed through iGoogle.

Hasn’t this man ever gone to youtube or wikipedia, started looking up something… and after 20 clicks of ‘related videos’ or any of the sub-links on the page, end up somewhere completely random and in no way similar to your original search?

People who have no idea what they’re talking about should just stop … writing.

I think I have an idea for a new website. It’ll be called “Missed the Boat”. Think similar to failblog… but it will display the comments and writings of those who simply “missed the boat” on technology. It’s like they’re over in left field ready for the pitch… and we’re playing football. 😛

JJ says:


Reading this guys opinion is really surreal… I genuinely don’t know what to make of it. Does he live in a different universe than the rest of us? I’ve always felt that the internet has pushed serendipity to incredible new extremes… every time I browse on wikipedia, amazon, youtube, or any of dozens of other sites I find dozens of unbelievable things that I never would have guessed existed before, let alone thought to look for them. I haven’t even gotten around to signing up for StumbleUpon despite having been interested in it for years… I’m unexpectedly finding delightful new stuff every day *anyway,* so I can’t imagine what else it could do for me.

Compare to the brick-and-mortar world, where even when I go out looking for an unknown new experience I’ve got less than a 50/50 chance of finding it, let alone when I’m not looking.

Sheinen says:

I just spent around £80 on books through Amazon – I only wanted 1 book I’d read about 5 years ago, but Amazon showed me that it was the first in a long series. Plus, there were a few other series of books that I’d probably like too so stuff it! I ordered them all! Can’t beat a good stash of books to get through, and eff me in the a, I wouldn’t have known about any of them if not for the www.

Particularly not when you consider the dreary, ignorant and uninterested staff that tend to monitor actual book stores today…

Chargone says:

the ultimate example of finding random stuff:
tvtropes links.

to the point where people actually put Warnings on such links because almost everyone who goes to them ends up spending hours just hopping from one to the next reading the random interesting things.

i mean, sure, it’s organized, but you never know Where you’ll end up when you start down that path 😀

PaulT (profile) says:

Yeah, add me to the pile of people who discovers random stuff every day. I think you actually have to be deliberately closed-minded and ignore a hell of a lot of input online to not find new things you’d previously not heard of.

Maybe the NYT just has an incredibly paranoid content filter and Mr. Darlin doesn’t have home internet? If not, wilful ignorance is the only explanation for his problem. Hell, look at his “arguments”:

“But CDs have disappeared inside the iPod.”

Yes, I can carry around more albums than I could ever physically carry, many of which are downloaded from sites like eMusic and AmieStreet by independent artists I discovered through those sites.

“And shelves of videos are rarely seen as we get discs in the mail from Netflix or downloaded from Vudu.”

Yep, I no longer have to be limited by the relatively meagre selection at the local Blockbuster.

“And, one day soon, book collections may end up inside a Kindle.”

While the loss of a paper product would be a tragedy, it ain’t going to happen in our lifetime. Besides, same argument as above – your local bookstore or library doesn’t have Amazon’s selection.

It’s not the internet’s fault you can’t look at a selection of virtually every album recorded, every DVD released and every book published and not find something new to discover.

Jessica F says:

i just proved him wrong

I would suspect having stumbled upon this article, after first clicking on CNN – Eco Solutions Green Inspirations, and then scrolling down to see the “releated blogs” only to find this blog, which lead me to read the original article….

sorta proves him wrong, doesnt it? Otherwise, how can he explain how i read his article, if not for seredipty leading the way???

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