Back when computers began replacing card catalogs in libraries, people complained. One entire genre of complaints I remember was that there would be no more serendipitous discoveries, the ones that come from flipping through a card catalog just to see what comes up, and maybe finding a fantastic book that way. After all, with computers, you just put in your keywords, hit ENTER, and if the search is successful, you’re taken straight to the entry you were looking for. If it doesn’t work, you usually get an error message, not a fun alternative. Even when you browse a library catalog on a computer, you’re still scrolling through entries page by page, which just isn’t the same thing as skipping through a drawer chunk by chunk of cards.
Perhaps the fears were unfounded. I have had a serendipitous discovery this evening using Amazon.com’s search engine. Amazon is no library—wait, they’re lending e-books…no, let’s not get into that right now—but searching involves keywords, just like with library catalogs.
Here’s what happened. I like Bigelow’s White Chocolate Obsession tea. I must not be the only person who likes it, because Bigelow hasn’t discontinued it, but I’m not sure that many people who live near me like it, because I haven’t found it in my local stores for quite a while. So I’ve taken to ordering a case (6 boxes) of it every now and then from Amazon. I’m down to my last box, so I went to their website and started my search. Ever-helpful, Amazon tried to guess what I wanted:I stared at it blankly for several seconds, trying to figure out what had gone wrong. It was the second suggestion (“white chocolate obsession barbie in Grocery”) that really threw me, because the tea should be in Grocery. Had the Amazon search engine seriously glitched or was this some odd promotion by Bigelow? I finally followed one of the Barbie links through:
Not tea. Most definitely not tea. And it’s in Toys & Games, not Grocery. (Like you’re going to play with an $899 Barbie doll? Yeah, right.) But to everyone who fretted that computers meant that there would never be unplanned fortuitous discoveries ever again: that search provided me with amusement far out of proportion to the effort I put into it!
I’m going to go order the tea now.
That’s not a great picture of the doll. If you’re curious, a much better photograph and a description may be found at the Barbie Collector website. Apparently it even smells like chocolate.