Opinion: The death of social serendipity

Christina Bucciere is a senior journalism major and a columnist for the Daily Kent Stater. Contact her at [email protected]

Christina Bucciere

As an aspiring journalist, I rely on my interpersonal and observational skills to formulate my constant pool of story ideas. So, when I stood outside class the other day with my peers waiting for the professor to arrive, I became acutely aware of the opportunities I was missing to hone those skills. There I was, there we all were, heads down, fingers swiping the screens of our smart phones and not saying a word to one another. And I thought to myself: what happened to social serendipity?

Of course, the aversion to striking up a conversation with strangers is understandable, but it is interesting how quickly we turn to technology to fill even the briefest of lulls in our daily lives.

This question of social serendipity got me wondering what it must have been like for students prior to the days of constant internet access, which wasn’t all that long ago. Even if students weren’t more willing to interact with their peers, at the very least they would have had far fewer excuses to remain silent. Now, it would be rare to see a student walking across campus or waiting for class to begin without the accompaniment of a cat gif just a click away.

Some might argue, however, modern technology is not to blame for the depletion of social serendipity. In fact, they might argue technology enhances it. We are constantly confronted with new information as we browse the internet, discovering things we didn’t intend upon. Most notably, there’s StumbleUpon, which is a website seemingly created to increase this sensation I am arguing the death of.

But even StumbleUpon isn’t completely random. It uses your stated preferences to compile information tailored to your interests. Similarly, we discover new Youtube clips every day, but from a Facebook friend. We are linked to an interesting article, but by a news site we visit on a regular basis. So, in reality, the internet creates a pseudo-serendipitous environment, feeling accidental, but cloaking the familiarity underneath.

College, however, is the only four-year period in our lives solely dedicated to learning, and it’s the opportunities to have face-to-face interactions with unfamiliar people, and the unexpected discoveries that result from those interactions, that enhance our chances to learn.

It’s impossible to know what kind of impact a stranger will have on your life. Maybe they’ll become a lifelong friend or even your future husband or wife. Maybe they’ll help you land your dream job one day. Or maybe not. That’s the chance we take when we open ourselves up to the possibility of embracing the world around us. But what could be more exciting?

What is possible, however, is knowing how small our worlds can become when we refuse to put the cell phone or laptop away for awhile, position our necks in their natural positions and take a chance on someone new. I want to make a conscious effort to do this more often not just for the benefit of my journalistic abilities to gather information, but for the benefit of my own personal development in life. If society keeps telling us it’s not what you know, it’s who you know for professional advancement, maybe we should apply this to our social advancement as well.