Don’t underestimate the value of spontaneity

Random roommates, random ingredients in dining hall meat, random guessing on hour exams — the word random kind of has a negative connotation. We often don’t appreciate how much randomness can benefit us in our daily lives, especially when it leads to spontaneity.

Take, for instance, channel surfing. The practice enables us to come across programming that we may have otherwise been oblivious to, exposing us to new ideas and forms of entertainment.

Unfortunately, technology has been advancing in ways that seek to eliminate this randomness.

Instead of channel surfing, many people watch all of their television via Netflix, which allows them to watch entire seasons of shows at their leisure without commercial interruption. While this is certainly a convenience for watching shows that they already know they like, it detracts from the random nature of channel surfing, and thus makes it less likely for these people to branch out and discover new shows.

And television is just the start.

Bookstores are sinking into obsoleteness, with people electing to read books electronically. This is unfortunate because it removes another tremendous source of randomness from our lives (and also because now hipsters have fewer coffee shops to hang at).

I get excited every time I stumble across a Barnes & Noble because it enables me to meander through the shelves and pick up whatever catches my eye. It’s a great feeling to come out of the store with something that you had no plan to get on the way in. No browsing feature on a tablet or reading device can match that experience.

Radio is another example. With satellite radio you can elect to listen to the specific genre or radio personality of your choice, eliminating the possibility of discovering something new. Granted, even channels on regular radio tend to fall within specific categories, but those categories are often more broad.

Even news is taking this route, with online sites that allow you to filter through to only the news and perspectives that you prefer. This is particularly troubling when it comes to politics, as people will tend to side with conservative or liberal news, thus further widening the ideological split that divides our country, and removing the demand for rational voices that try to better understand each side’s position.

GPS navigation eliminates the randomness that you experience from getting lost and having to find your way in an unfamiliar neighborhood. It’s amazing how long you can live in a place and not even know everything that is around you. I experienced this living in a new city last summer. Some of the most interesting experiences I had were when I forgot to turn my GPS on and ended up driving somewhere that was more interesting than my original destination.

More generally, as randomness is eliminated from our lives it causes us to be less spontaneous, which reduces our exposure to new ideas and experiences. This leads to more ignorance and isolation than it does open-mindedness and collaboration. While it’s true that a conservative may prefer conservative news anchors, true conservatives would be able to consider information from all news sources and still maintain their convictions. The same goes for anyone who claims to be a fan of any one music or book genre, television program, cuisine, smart phone brand, etc.

The reality is that we as humans are much more complex than the convenient labels that businesses like to assign to us. Letting yourself be spontaneous, whether it’s ordering a new dish from that restaurant you always eat at, or taking a different way home from work or school, expands your mind and allows you to better answer the ultimate question of how you define yourself and what really makes you happy. Taking these routes, though it often goes against our psychological nature, is the key to unlocking greater happiness and fulfillment in a life that often tries very hard to be mundane.

Andrew is a junior in Engineering. He can be reached at [email protected]