Assault on Serendipity

Do you enjoy random conversations with strangers on airplanes?  Or do you prefer to keep to yourself, catch up on some reading, and maybe snooze a bit?  I fall somewhere in between, sometimes feeling like introducing myself and engaging in various levels of small talk and chatter.

I remember meeting a woman who was en route to Lexington, KY, where she had decided to relocate and start anew after a recent divorce.  I, on the other hand, had recently become engaged, so we had plenty to say about relationships.  The fact that I remember the conversation–I don’t recall what she looked like–is a testament to chance encounters, the serendipity of meeting a friendly stranger, and being open to randomness in life.

Information Technology gives us the opportunity to squash that randomness. 

KLM airlines has a Meet and Seat program that allows customers to view Facebook or Linkedin profiles of others to see where he or she might be sitting.  Sounds somewhat creepy.

How about being able to walk into a bar or restaurant, open up your another version of Meet and Seat on your Smart Phone, then immediately know if people with common interests are in the vicinity?  Would you make an approach to a stranger with networking, friendship, or dating in mind?

How about Yelp and other influential crowd-sourcing services that rate everything?  I use Urbanspoon to check our restaurant reviews and, for the most part, I’ve agreed with positive consensus ratings after trying new places.  It’s a luxury to be able to avoid random restaurant duds and, as a result of the service, my expectations for eating out have risen considerably.  I don’t remember the last time I was truly surprised at finding a great hole-in-the-wall or BBQ joint.  But I miss the adventurous aspect of stumbling upon a new spot.

Like most technological innovations, the mere existence of these serendipity-squashing tools isn’t a justification to need or use them.  Sure, I like Urbanspoon.  But I also make countless decisions and encounters every day without the help of crowdsourced review sites and Meat and Seat apps.  I don’t need more reasons to peck or swipe away at a screen and fret over the choices I am about to make in daily life. 

It all comes down to balance.   What we choose to use technology for is a critical question relating to the quality of our lives and relationships.  I’m tired of seeing swarms of people running to the next app and gadget without thinking of its implications, both good and bad.

How about you?  Do you embrace information technology to help make decisions in your daily life?  Which ones?


  1. “How about being able to walk into a bar or restaurant, open up your another version of Meet and Seat on your Smart Phone, then immediately know if people with common interests are in the vicinity?”

    There’s an app for that–Highlight.

  2. Thanks! I did meet my fiancee through, so I guess I must give credit where credit is due–some of the technologies that can facilitate human interaction have been good to me:)

  3. Great post! I can go both ways on a plane depending on how much external interaction I have had prior to boarding and whether or not I feel I need a break. But I met my husband standing in line at the airport, so I definitely believe in the power of serendipity! I am with you on the meet and seat – sounds creepy – I said that as I read this and then read your exact ame words – great minds think alike! Thanks for the post – it is good to know about the technological creep that we seem to accept more and more.

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