Serendipity VS Google

This post makes the case for a "I'm feeling lost button" but it also wonders about where this beautiful phenomena's heading in our Filter-filled era. What is serendipity ? Lenny Rachitsky does a great job defining it as the act of stumbling upon something fortunate while seeking something completely unrelated. In other terms : It's randomness smiling back at you. I believe Paulo Coelho grasps the concept wonderfully in "The alchemist" when he talks about "the universe conspiring to help you get to your goal".


Serendipity isn't free of charge. You have to take a step towards it for it to come meet you. I think of it as Newton's apple. He had to take a walk out of his apartment and go sit under a tree for a change. And hop ! There was the apple. You don't seek serendipity, you meet it. Life makes sure you do.

What are filters ? Filters are one of humanity's greatest inventions in my opinion. If you've read Chris Anderson's The Long Tail, you might have the same opinion. The Web started "making sense" when Google arrived. Yes ! that's how important filters are ! They allow you to find what you need. This is as major a step as the step from oral culture to written culture. Yes ! You read this right. Recall that chapter in James Gleick's "The information" where he explains how writing allowed humans to "look up" things. How could you possibly "look up" something in an oral culture where ideas don't have a physical existence.

Same with filters. The Internet would've remained a diffuse babble if it wasn't for Google. Yes ! I have an Android phone, a Chrome browser, a Gmail account and a proud Googler :) Google allowed us to "look up" things on the Web. The company's crawling algorithmic robots transform the Net into a searchable parchment !

So what's the problem ? Well, here's the problem as Eli Fraser puts it :


However, though the "filter bubble" is a reality and tailoring the Web to your tastes is threatening serendipity, I'm wondering how "Serendipity" ca be included in a "natural" way into our Web surfing routine. When people search, they want to find. Efficiency is the word. Randomness is a Pre-Google nightmare for productivity obsessed individuals.

In other terms, you don't want randomness, serendipity unless you're searching for it !!! Did you read that ? This way of thinking defeats the very purpose and spirit of serendipity.

So what's the solution ? Well, the very idea of this post came while reading an article about the future of shopping on Fast Company. There's this new app called Catalog Spree on the Ipad. The idea is to centralize in one store-like app all existing shop catalogs. It makes sense both from an environmental and efficiency point of view. I'm a hard believer in the upcoming disappearance of physical stores. Google brewed future shoppers won't go "looking" for the Pink Floyd symphonic disc when they can "look it up" on the Internet, nor will they "look" for the skimmed milk in a supermarket when they can search for it on the Supermarket's website.

Can you see ? In an app like Catalog spree, the only serendipity you can find is the one the app itself through the display of products shows you. It's the pair of red shoes you spot next to mocassins.

So what are you saying here ? In an efficiency-centered, filter-based future : serendipity will have to be engineered, built-in as a side-occurrence. Yes ! Serendipity and efficiency (filters) are irreconcilable.

Serendipity is reality's slap in the face to remind you : "You're not in control, you don't really know what you want, let me surprise you and you won't be disappointed". It's when that really charismatic, definitely annoying shop keeper convinces you to buy that shirt you really did't like saying : "Trust me". And the shirt "works" :)

We tend to want to be in control until we reach that point of maturity where we realize life has the potential to surprise us and guide us. This realization may become synonymous of downloading a "serendipity app" built into our filters in the future.