Sunday, August 9, 2009

Letting Serendipity Seek You

DAMON DARLIN wrote in the New York Times section Ping: Serendipity, Lost in the Digital Deluge. After reading the piece, I can only conclude that serendipity is within the traveler and not the pathway. There has been a great deal of serendipity during this endeavor and it has changed my own paradigms.

I also don't believe that Darlin has a firm grasp on what serendipity is in truth. Truth seems a better word than fact. Serendipity is magic without the magician, the third wish without the genie or even the wish. It is more than randomness and blind luck and in its best sense can not be calculated or anticipated.

Darlin gives UrbanSpoon, as one example which depends upon randomness to find a restaurant.

But a funny thing happens with frequent users of the app. They start relying on its search engine or the “Talk of the Town” feature, an algorithm that generates suggestions that uncannily echo local sentiment.

So most of us don't stick to the path less traveled most of the time. Here he is right, the algorithm becomes a high-tech crowdsourcing, substituting for the serendipity that customers are seeking. Trouble is that you cannot seek serendipity. You have to seek, not even necessarily seek, but be open to the unknown and let serendipity find you.

But this does bring up the question of individuals finding new pathways and larger groups finding new pathways. As the TED Talk below shows - The group-think of social networks isn't good at delivering those magical moments of discovery.

James Surowiecki: The moment when social media became the news
James Surowiecki pinpoints the moment when social media became an equal player in the world of news-gathering: the 2005 tsunami, when YouTube video, blogs, IMs and txts carried the news -- and preserved moving personal stories from the tragedy. Watch this talk >>

James Surowiecki, the author of The Wisdom of Crowds, argues that people acting en masse, are smarter than we think with one important caveat.

But there's also a downside to this -- a kind of dark side, in fact --and that is that the more tightly linked we come to each other, the harder it is for each of us to remain independent.
One of the fundamental characteristics of a network is that once you are linked in the network, the network starts to shape your views and starts to shape your interactions with everybody else. That's one of the things that defines what a network is. A network is not just the product of its component parts.It is something more than that. It is, as Steven Johnson has talked about, an emergent phenomenon.
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