Those among you who are interested in the origin of words may already know the etymology of “serendipity.” The word is based on an ancient tale called “The Three Princes of Serendip” and describes an accidental and fortunate discovery of something unexpected.
Serendipitous discoveries take place because of how things are ordered and because of the search tools and practices we employ. At the ISN we are also concerned with the order of things. We classify our content by using about 3000 keywords on international relations and security. With this concern in mind, on Wednesday in our weekly editorial meeting we discussed a recent NY Times article by Damon Darlin on the loss of serendipity in the digital age. According to Darlin, because of the internet tools in place today we have “lost the fortunate discovery of something we never knew we wanted to find.”
So we wondered: Does indexing information really remove the element of surprise?
I believe this is not the case. Indexed information in any encyclopedia is a beautiful opportunity for serendipity. To support my argument I will cite Jorge Luis Borges, who, in his “Investigation of the Word” (in Selected Non-Fictions) talks about the “alphabetical disorder” of dictionaries. What a beautiful opportunity of finding words with very different meanings next to each other just because they share the same initial letters!