| July 1, 2012

Has the Internet Killed Serendipity?

  • I actually think the internet causes the rate of social serendipity to increase, rather than decrease. True, there are some areas where it’s harder in comparison (Facebook can be like asking someone to be best buds after holding the door open for them), but there is still much more room for interaction with potential friends than before the internet, just because of the sheer increase in the number of people we interact with daily. Any time there are more opportunities for surprise, the more likely it will occur! (Flip a coin 10 times, probably pretty normal “random” distribution. Flip it 1000 times, you’ll probably find large runs of just heads or just tails). 

    Before the internet, the only serendipitous moments would be at on a plane or bus, a college class outside of your major, or perhaps a convention or concert. They represent places where you on the border of your comfort zone, whether that be because of new interests, a different location, or just plain luck. But these things would not happen as often, because we are restricted in where we can be at any moment and can therefore only meet so many new people.

    With the internet, you can reach outside of your comfort zone and meet thousands of people almost instantly on a variety of different subjects. The encounters at first may not be as meaningful as meeting in person (which still gives us hope for interaction the real world!), but the large number of people that we come across will undoubtably result in meeting people in different locations, walks of life, and with different perspectives. When all the right things sync up, that’s when serendipity happens! 

    I do agree that it’s hard to engineer without breaking the magic of it all; the “Girls Around Me” app is definitely guilty of it. But it would be the same as finding someone’s number, pretending to have a “wrong number” and then trying to start up a conversation. You can’t force it! But I believe that by being moderately open and welcoming, these platforms can facilitate these serendipitous interactions, at a much higher rate than the social networks of “Real Life” and “The Phone” did in the past 🙂 

    P.S. Yes, they are social networks too! A lot more limited, but therefore more personal. (This is something I think Path gets wrong, btw, but that’s another thread).
    P.P.S. The opening of your blog reminded me of Sliding Doors, which is all about serendipity! Check it out if you haven’t already. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sliding_Doors

  • I agree. I’ve met friends all over the world by accident on internet. I met my fiancee there as well, he was in my home town, I was living somewhere else.