The Lost Art of Browsing.

There was a lovely essay in the New York Times this morning by Stephanie Rosenbloom – she talked about getting lost in Europe, about stumbling onto statues, to Oscar Wilde’s childhood home…the lack of preemptive navigation allowed her to travel without direction, to observe her surroundings, and ultimately gave her a richer experience.

My iPhone finds the most direct route to anything I wish to see, which is why I turn it off. Keeping it on would mean missing out on countless small streets and dead-ends, all those quiet, beautiful lanes and impasses with names I don’t remember.

I’ve been speaking with a number of young people about their career trajectories, their struggles to find permanent work, the cycle of interviewing and waiting. Many of them are planners, and it’s obviously a stressful time for them, to have a destination in mind but not being able to somehow get from point A to point B.

It seems as though navigation has taken over not just our physical wanderings, but our professional ones, as well. 

In graduate school, my research methods professor pounded (nicely) into us the importance of browsing the stacks. Even if we thought we knew what we were looking for, he counseled, by browsing we might find something complementary, or something totally different but much more interesting. He spoke of it as a way to spark creativity, to broaden context, to inspire and delight. (In context, it was less helpful than you might imagine…I just wanted to write the damn paper! But in retrospect boy does it ring true.)  As someone who has delighted in bookstores and record shops, who loves to read every description and review on every bottle of wine at my local wine shop, and as someone who wandered quite a bit professionally   before finding a niche, I’m constantly reminded of how non-linear my paths have been, and how I’ve really enjoyed the “scenic route.” 

So, perhaps this is is actually an old-fart rant masquerading as a blog post: one that implores you to allow yourself to wander a little bit en route to your destination – or, maybe to reroute that trip from the expected to something that is both unexpected, and maybe even a little terrifying at first. 

Here’s to finding something breathtaking around that first corner.  

 


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One thought on “The Lost Art of Browsing.

  1. BeBe says:

    Love this piece, LA. It reaffirms one of my core values: “Not all who wander are lost!” Although I will find it impossible to turn the iPhone off, I agree wholeheartedly.

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