Web v. Paper: On Serendipity

May 10, 2010 § Leave a comment

A few weeks ago, I attended the Women in the Forefront luncheon hosted by the Chicago Network, an organization that advocates for women in business leadership in Chicago. The keynote speaker was Ann S. Moore, the Chairman and CEO of Time, Inc.

Moore shared many wise points and witticisms in her speech, like the connection between a weak economy and searches for tuna casserole on the Internet, the importance of dinner time with family, and advised us all to get a compass in place of the clock. She lifted her glass to economic recovery, more women leaders, less tuna casserole, and more sunshine and serendipity.

She also shared her fear about the precarious state of America’s newspapers.  She reminded us that the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution is Freedom of the Press, and that democracy is possible only when citizens have access to information. While the Internet is a wonderful source of information, she warned that too much unfiltered information is overwhelming.

She criticized the trend of citizen journalism, saying that the sacrifices and risks that professional journalists make is undervalued. They go to war-torn countries and put themselves in danger to provide regular citizens with a complete story, while, Moore argues, most citizen journalists plagiarize their work. This is a rather harsh generalization, and while I do think that citizen journalism has a place, I couldn’t agree more that we need to protect the profession of journalism and ensure that it continues to be a viable career choice. We need to support the brave men and women on the front lines of getting first-hand accounts of world events.

About serendipity, Moore worries about the younger generations will not have the experience of reading the newspaper and stumbling randomly across stories and information. She asked us “how do you look for something when you don’t know what you’re looking for?”

This made me think of young people I have worked with in recent years who refused to read the hard copy version of their reading assignments. They complained that that got ink on their fingers! I would always counsel them that they will miss important details that they didn’t know they were looking for. Moore describes reading a hard copy newspaper as a serendipitous process, which I think very apt.

I’m always eager to learn about new technology. While I identify as an early adopter, I would qualify that by saying that I am also conservative about it. I will only actively adopt technology if I think it is a useful tool and will seamlessly fit into my already incredibly full information consumption routine.

Technology is convenient, and I admit, like those young researchers, I have become lazy in how I rely on technology to push information to me. Serendipity to me these days is reading my Twitter and RSS feeds, or listening to my podcasts. I lament that I am no longer in the habit of reading a morning news paper. I think I might go old-school, and be a minority on the bus in the morning, reading my paper with ink-stained fingers.

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