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Social Serendipity


Since its first appearance in the English language by H. Walpole in 1754, serendipity is one of the most exotic words in the English language. Today, it is defined as “The faculty of making happy and unexpected discoveries by accident...” Over the 259 years the word has been in existence it’s definition has barely changed; however, the word has changed through use and application, so much so that some people look past serendipities’ definition and see the word as a methodical approach to life.


This methodical approach is looked at as a process of perceiving things that are linked indirectly, and using that to your advantage in the activity in order to enhance the activity being performed. This can be done for many activities including reading, writing, note taking, and even shopping. For example, some read the old fashion New York Times rather than on a phone because of the issue of serendipity. They claim that in a paper, articles are serendipitously linked for you by editors of the New York Times on every page so when you are done reading one article your more inclined to read something linked to the previous article through serendipity, which will enhance the reading experience for each section. This would be harder to do on phone because of space limitations, which will limit serendipity. Even though I think this is a good argument, I think serendipity is so much more than a methodical approach.


The way I like to look at serendipity is through the a social lense or “social serendipity.” I believe social serendipity is a phrase that is an abstract force that works in our world as an agent of fate propelling everyone to the future or their destiny through happy, unexpected discoveries, and chance. Along with myself, a lot of important people in Silicon Valley tend to agree with me, a place that is lucrative because of human ingenuity. Serendipity is so important in Silicon Valley, an article was published in the New York Times about it. “Engineering Serendipity” by Greg Lindsay explains that executives in Silicon Valley have many priorities, but one of the highest is to promote social serendipity in their companies. A similarity between Yahoo executive’s mandates, and Google’s building schematics, is that they are aimed towards increasing serendipitous productivity, enhancing a company’s future.


I believe social serendipity is one of the many contentions for reading the New York Times traditionally. Personally, after I have began to notice some trends that separate reading on a phone versus reading traditionally. I have noticed that when I read on a phone I am endlessly staring at the screen, and would not dare to look up unless calamity struck; however, when I read a traditional paper, I tend to read lightly and will look around, observe others, and seem to intuitively enjoy the reading experience and where I am while I am reading much more. First I believed that this preference was rather intuitive and idiosyncratic until I read “The Reading Brain in the Digital Age: The Science of Paper versus Screens” by Ferris Jabr. Jabr references studies, which tends to show that “People report that they enjoy flipping to a previous section of a paper book when a sentence surfaces a memory of something they read earlier, for example, or quickly scanning ahead on a whim. People also like to have as much control over a text as possible—to highlight with chemical ink, easily write notes to themselves in the margins as well as deform the paper however they choose.”


Along with enjoying my experience reading the traditional New York Times through my social presence alone, a rare moment comes along when I will connect with another reader. One time I was on a CTA train on my way to a class in the Loop, reading my New York Times. All around me there were people playing on their phones, listening to music, or using an Ipad; however there was one other woman who was reading the New York Times, and eventually we saw each other, and gave each other a faint smile acknowledging our presence. That train ride was marked by serenity from the Times, and because of a faint, friendly smile from another in a town that can be very unfriendly at times. Because of that rare smile, an event I see inclusive in social serendipity.


Unfortunately I am not sure how often that occurs when we have our phones by our side waiting idly to be used. There has been some research on the topic as subjective as it is. One of the most interesting that I found was “Cellphones in public: social interactions in a wireless era” by Lee Humphreys. In this review, Humphrey claims that: “Singles may read a newspaper, drink a cup of coffee or otherwise seem occupied in order to avoid being approached…In this case, a defensive measure would be (used) to counter any approach.” With all that has been stated, I feel that a traditional New York Times is preferred to an electronic paper. 










Work Cited:


Humphreys, Lee. "Cellphones in Public: Social Interactions in a Wireless Era." NEW MEDIA & SOCIETY. 6th ed. Vol. 7. N.p.: News Media Society, n.d. 810-33. Print.


Lindsay, Greg. "Engineering Serendipity." Nytimes.com. The New York Times Company, 5 Apr. 2013. Web. 18 Apr. 2013.


"The Reading Brain in the Digital Age: The Science of Paper versus Screens: Scientific American." The Reading Brain in the Digital Age: The Science of Paper versus Screens: Scientific American. N.p., n.d. Web. 18 Apr. 2013.

DRAFT: This module has unpublished changes.