What are some famous examples of serendipity

Serendipity: How we help happiness

But online giants such as Facebook, Google or Amazon evaluate the click behavior of users on a large scale and often only present them what is apparently relevant to them. In this respect, the Internet has not existed for a long time, only excerpts from it that have been created again and again thanks to hidden algorithms. But those who always get their own search behavior mirrored run the risk of being trapped in an "echo chamber". The US Internet critic Eli Pariser coined the term filter bubble for this in 2011.

A study by Italian scientists published in 2016 investigated this phenomenon. Michela Del Vicario's team from the Istituto Alti Studi in Lucca compared the information flows in 67 Facebook groups. A good half of them were serious science forums, while the others spread obscure ideas and conspiracy theories. Over five years it was observed how the posts spread in these subnetworks and beyond their borders. Result: Myths and legends showed a much longer half-life than seriously proven facts. How come

Swim against the flow of information? Online algorithms make it difficult

Normally, messages are sent to the net within a few hours; so also the news from research. In contrast, targeted misinformation such as the myth that the EU plans to ban the private use of medicinal herbs has been shared, commented on and linked over and over again over the years. According to the Italian researchers, this is due, among other things, to the hidden selection algorithms of search engines and social networks. They make it difficult for users to swim against the flow of information and come across alternative views.

Nonetheless, many still regard the Internet as a "serendipity machine". Hypertext links ensure that within seconds you can access knowledge that once had to be laboriously gathered. This makes it much easier to establish unexpected references and to trace traces more easily than with traditional media. However, it is also clear that we would be completely overwhelmed with the unfiltered mass of online offers. It is not for nothing that successful websites and apps usually offer very simple, manageable functions that greatly reduce the complexity of the Internet. A major challenge of the digital future is not to allow yourself to be harnessed for goals that are not aimed at in view of the many virtual blinkers.

At the end of 2015, nine authors around the social researcher Dirk Helbing from the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (ETH) in Zurich issued a manifesto warning of the dangers of the digital revolution. The increasing automation through intelligent data analysis (keyword »Big Data«) threatens to manipulate business, politics and the public, even personal life decisions. That undermines freedom and democracy. In order to ward off "hidden paternalism", the right to privacy and informational self-determination would have to be strengthened and the selection mechanisms on the internet would have to be disclosed. Because only with transparency can one prevent a few actors from controlling and managing the knowledge online that ultimately belongs to everyone.

Other researchers, including Sanda Erdelez, see this less critically. The network is still bursting with information that is freely available and highly networked. Despite the dominance of Google, Facebook and the like, nobody is trapped in predetermined data streams - on the contrary, especially in the digital age, serendipity is booming.

"Many of the most important changes in our lives are the result of trivial coincidences," wrote Albert Bandura long before the invention of the Internet. It is still true today that we cannot control which coincidences happen, but that one can very well encourage them to be used. Curiosity, openness and trust in your own happiness are the best prerequisites for this.

Serendipity - a fairytale concept makes a career

The hour of birth of a term can seldom be dated so precisely: On January 28, 1754, Sir Horace Walpole, the 4th Earl of Orford, wrote a letter to Horace Mann. Walpole described a discovery he had made shortly before: While rummaging in his library he came across a coat of arms that also adorned a Renaissance painting that his friend had sent him from Florence. (Horace Mann had long served there as British ambassador to the Grand Duke of Tuscany.)

Out of sheer enthusiasm for his find, Walpole describes it in his letter as a case of "serendipity" - a word that he spontaneously invented himself. As luck would have it, it reminded him of a fairy tale he had read as a child: "The Three Princes of Serendip".

Serendip is an old Sanskrit name for Ceylon, today's Sri Lanka. This is where the prince saga takes place, which Walpole thought of while writing his letter. It is about the sons of the wise King Jafer, who go abroad and draw all sorts of curious conclusions from experiences along the way. The moral of the story: With the necessary powers of observation you can recognize things that remain hidden to others - and thus help your luck on the jumps.

Walpole's word creation did not make a career until much later: According to an evaluation by the US sociologist Robert K. Merton, the word "serendipity" got two mentions in the Anglo-Saxon press in the 1960s. In the 1990s there were already more than 13,000 - and the trend is rising.

Today serendipity is not just a philosophically well-received concept. It is also increasingly being investigated by empirical researchers in field and laboratory studies. According to information scientists, the incidental, unintentional snapping of incidents and facts that prove to be significant in retrospect is likely to become increasingly important in the course of digitization. Experts speak of “opportunistic information acquisition” (OIA) or “information encountering” (IE).

Source: Merton, R. K., Barber, E .: The Travels and Adventures of Serendipity: A Study in Sociological Semantics and the Sociology of Science. Princeton University Press, 2006