Dr. Perry Alexander

The University of Kansas

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Serendipity is a word I don’t hear much these days, but it came up in conversation with a good friend I ran into at the grocery store. That this happened is itself serendipity making this an oddly self-referential post, but I will refrain from walking down the philosophy of that for the time being.

Serendipity is characterized by random things happening in a way that turns out really well. Chatting with a random friend in the grocery or bumping into your favorite artist friend and talking about blockchain or seeing a paper right next to the paper you intended to read that you really should read. That’s serendipity.

I’m worried about serendipity. The tech world lives on it. We are dependent on happy accidents that lead to things that just would not happen otherwise yet wind up being essential to our direction. Web browsers leaving bread crumbs leading to browser cookies. Sharing computers leading to the internet. Meeting research idols leading to students connecting to and attending top graduate schools. We depend on serendipity.

We’re slowly but surely killing it off and we have no one to blame but ourselves. If COVID taught us anything it taught us that we can work alone at home in our basements. Zoom and Teams and WebEx and all the other online gizmos allowed us to survive the isolation. Now they create isolation by allowing us to avoid bumping into things. And bumping into things is the only way serendipity happens. That’s why I tell my junior colleagues if I could go back in time and tell my younger self anything, it would be to stop worrying about bumping into things. Go ahead. Bump. I understand social interaction is painful for many of us, but bump. Please. The world depends on it.