A Search Tool For Serendipity

The fun of stumbling upon random old media with “LOC Serendipity”

Clive Thompson


“Question mark sign” by Colin Kinner (CC 2.0 license, unmodified)

Recently I’ve written about “rewilding your attention” — or, why it’s good to spend less time looking at the algorithmically-sorted feeds of social media …

… and go hunting for the weirder, woolier stuff in the curious corners of the Internet (and the offline world, too).

As I noted in my first piece on this subject, the algorithms in social-media feeds do have some good qualities. They generally promote posts that are rapidly rising in popularity, so they’re an excellent way to keep tabs on subjects that millions of people are talking about. They connect us to the big, intense conversations of the moment.

But this means they’re unlikely to surprise us.

A main thrust of social-media algorithms is to get us to pay attention to the viral stuff — i.e. the same things that millions of other people are looking at. This is like monocropping your attention, and thus your thinking. You’re less likely to have an interesting new idea if you’re reading and pondering the exact same stuff as everyone else.

So, rewilding your attention means injecting more variety into your reading/watching — by hunting down stuff that’s off the beaten track. This offbeat stuff is far more likely to get your brain ticking, and to diversify the stuff you think about.

As I wrote …

Instead of crowding your attention with what’s already going viral on the intertubes, focus on the weird stuff. Hunt down the idiosyncratic posts and videos that people are publishing, oftentimes to tiny and niche audiences. It’s decidedly unviral culture — but it’s more likely to plant in your mind the seed of a rare, new idea.

Okay, cool. But — how do you rewild your attention?

GLAD YOU ASKED. One of my new pasttimes is collecting tools and techniques for rewilding. I wrote a post about “9 Ways To ‘Rewild Your Attention’”, and one about search engines that were designed to surprise you. So I’m always on the hunt for gewgaws that are designed to bring me the strange stuff.

I recently found another: The LOC Serendipity search engine.



Clive Thompson

I write 2X a week on tech, science, culture — and how those collide. Writer at NYT mag/Wired; author, “Coders”. @clive@saturation.social clive@clivethompson.net