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The Clock

I just finished reading the New Yorker article about The Clock [1].

Serendipity. Someone was just commenting to me about how serendipity was hard to come by these days, since no one goes to the library, or reads newspapers, or looks at microfiche. One could argue that serendipity just hasn’t been around that long. Aside from noting that public libraries and newspapers are at best only a few centuries old (Ben Franklin invented the lending library and the American version of the newspaper), the only thing that’s happened with the demise of newspapers and research libraries, and with the advent of the net is that only the nature of serendipity has changed.

On a Wednesday in late August, I was bored and checked plane fares to CDG on a lark, and saw that I could fly to Paris next Thursday for less than $1k. I emailed dogsitters, my eight bosses, and didn’t book a room until the next Tuesday. I got off the plane in Paris on Friday, stayed as long as I wanted, then booked a train to Venice. I booked a hotel on the train on the way to Venice.

In Venice, I found out that both the Venice Film Festival and the Biennale were going on. I met an Austrian film distributor in Harry’s Bar, who gave me her ticket to the “Ides of March” afterparty because she couldn’t go. I didn’t meet George or Ryan, but I did strike up a conversation with a nice German art curator, who invited me to come see the exhibit she had curated. And, as I got an ice-cream after I got off the last boat back from Lido, the nice ice-cream vendor offered to show me around Venice the next day.


As we were wandering around the hot Biennale, we stopped to rest shanks mare in the cool room where there were several white couches and a film playing. I am not normally a fan of video art [2], but I ended up sitting for hours watching this mesmerizing spectacle. I don’t like to read about art in advance, and I don’t like to read the plaques – I just want to let the art hit me without someone else’s preconceptions influencing what I see. So, not knowing the first thing about it, it took me minutes to figure out what was going on, and more to realize that I was watching it in “real time.”

Eventually I got up and wandered around the rest of the Biennale, but ended up coming back and watching even more of “The Clock.” It was only much later that I found out that it won awards, and had become famous, and that Venice was one of the first places it was shown.

So, serendipity. Yeah, it’s different than it was. And it’ll be different again when petroleum shortages don’t allow anyone not in the 1% to hop on a plane and go overseas. More like it was before the concept of serendipity was invented. I’ve got this feeling that the net, and a couple hundred RSS feeds keep the serendipity occurrence high, if not as focussed as it was in the past, when we found it in libraries, or newspapers, and not on Boing Boing or Gizmodo, or because someone in the 20% could afford to hop on a plane at a moment’s notice.

[1] Yeah, I run a little behind. I caught up about six months on my month-long trip to Hungover^WHannover. But I’m still only up to March.

[2] In my experience, I find that mostly it’s just shocking for shock’s sake, or if it’s not, it’s boring.