THE BLOG
12/26/2012 11:56 am ET | Updated Feb 25, 2013

The Loss of Serendipity (And How to Get It Back)

The other day, my daughter mentioned an article that was very interesting to her in the latest issue of Rolling Stone magazine. A few days later, she handed me the magazine with the page opened to it.

I was pretty surprised by what I read.

No, it wasn't about one of her favorite bands or any other celebrity, or a new movie. It was about a movement among some Catholic nuns in the U.S. to modernize the religion -- an odd topic to be intriguing an almost-15-year-old. I doubt she would have read the article if she was poking around the Rolling Stone website instead of turning the pages of the magazine itself.

There's something about the experience of flipping through a print publication that you can't easily duplicate when reading content online. Online, people go in search of the information they are looking for. Have a question? Just ask Google and it finds the answer (too many answers!) for you. Of course, we sometimes stray from the site with the answer, but we go on the path we select -- from link to link of interesting-sounding headlines. There's so much that we won't ever see this way.

Offline, flipping page by page, it's all serendipity. We peek at every headline. Things we didn't know we wanted to know catch our eye... inform us... sometimes change our lives. My favorite example of this was in a letter we received from one of our Bottom Line/Personal subscribers in response to an article on the importance of a colonoscopy, a diagnostic test he had avoided for years. Reading our article prompted him to finally schedule the appointment, where the doctor found, and removed, cancerous polyps. We saved his life. If you were randomly poking around a website, would you want to read about colonoscopy? Likely not.

I was thinking about this again when I brought my car in for service last week. I brought two of my newspapers to read while I waited. (I was the only person in that crowded waiting room reading a newspaper.) While many people have canceled their newspaper delivery, it's my favorite source for news because I am sure to scan every page. When I simply go by emailed headlines, I know that I miss reading the things I didn't know I wanted to know.

Of course, digital is not going away. Neither should print, just as radio stayed -- albeit changed -- when television came along.

Here's a dare: Try to read one newspaper or magazine each month. Just flip through it. See if you don't find some piece of serendipity that you never would have found if it hadn't found you. I'm sure you'll be glad you did.