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The Necessity of Serendipity

Phoenix's picture

Something has been niggling at me ever since I started taking the newspaper electronically.

At my mother's request that I keep up-to-date with the state of national and international affairs, I set up an account with the New York Times and began having an email sent to me every day with the headlines. When I open one of these emails, I can see the titles of the headline articles, as well as a short, one-sentence description of the article. The Times sends me Top News, Editors' Picks, World, U.S., Politics, Business, Technology, Sports, Arts, N.Y./Region, Obituaries, Dining & Wine, Today's Video, Editorials, and Op-Ed. I click on the articles in Top News, World, U.S., and Politics that look interesting or important; skim Business, Videos, Dining & Wine, and N.Y./Region; and skip Sports and Obituaries entirely. My favorites, though, are Editorials and Op-Ed, where NY Times writers are allowed to dispense entirely with any attempt to sound neutral, and state their opinions boldly.

I am a lazy person. If I have to click a link to read the comments on anything, I won't do it. If they appear automatically at the bottom of the page, on the other hand, I might. I try to counter this impulse when reading the newspaper, but it is a similar problem. I have to click a link in order to read an article. Would I read more articles if they were simply laid side-by-side in a newspaper in my hand? If they had more than one headline and one sentence with which to grab my attention? All this time, I have been telling myself that I read the articles that I get the newspaper for, and wondering about what I am worrying.

Upon reading Cass Sunstein's article, I understand what I knew all along. With the extra barrier of choice placed between me and the newspaper, my serendipity is handicapped. I have to actively seek out the news, which lessens the chances that I'll find something I didn't expect to be interesting.

This is, after all, why I take college classes! Certainly, I could google 'books about' or 'articles about' or 'movies about' any given topic, choose some, and self-educate. I have spent most of my life homeschooled, after all. Bryn Mawr classes, on the other hand, assign me articles that may have boring titles or descriptions, that may be about topics I never thought relevant to my life, and require me to read them. Such happened with an essay, This Is Our World by Dorothy Allison, which I was assigned in junior year and ended up identifying with so much that I wrote my Common Application Essay on it. So though I understand now what my problem is with my newspaper, I am not worried. I live in a world of serendipity.