Carolyn Steele Agosta
Serendipity and the Algorithms of YouTube
I enjoy taking a stroll through the halls of YouTube. I admit it, I’m a bit of a junkie when it comes to videos of beautiful destinations, creative lifestyles, great performances, and, well, oddities.
Currently on my list of YouTube channel subscriptions are: Curiosity Inc., Bricksie, Architectural Digest, Schmancy, Rick Beato, The Cottage Fairy, Downie Live, KJ and Tony Move to France, The Chateau Chronicles, and any videos from Expedia Travel Guides. I have watched hoarder home cleanouts, travels across Canada by train, cello performances, ballet, a tour of significant San Francisco buildings, and a guy who built a huge LEGO layout in his basement. I dig ’em all.
I totally enjoy the fact that these people are upfront with their passions. Some of the videos are slick, polished presentations, others are a guy with a handheld cellphone camera, showing off his collection of 1950s kids’ toys. Maybe it’s because I come from a family of nuts. Er, I mean, serious collectors. My mom and dad amassed a huge assortment of antique cameras, automobile bud vases, Fenton glass, antique furniture and farming equipment such as tractor seats, saddles, horse collars and hog snout pullers.
Yes. Hog snout pullers. It’s fun to say aloud, isn’t it.
I know you just tried.
I’ve seen videos of Annie Lennox singing opera, a dance routine using treadmills and another with umbrellas, a middle school percussion band playing Led Zeppelin. And one video leads to another which leads to another in a most interesting way. Right there, alongside the video I’m currently watching, a whole list of suggested videos appears. I know that it’s all decided by some kind of YouTube algorithm, but I like to think of it as serendipity.
Serendipity is the coming together of lucky chances in an unexpected and fortuitous way. Recently I’ve been experiencing a lot of it. I was asked to speak at a writers’ workshop and I thought, well, maybe if I do this, I really ought to get writing again. Because I haven’t been. And so what? Whose loss is it if I stop writing?
Writing makes me feel alive, and for the past year, I think I was sinking a bit into the “Well, I’m seventy now, what does it matter?” rut. YES! SEVENTY!! FREAKS ME OUT!
So I wrote two short stories in preparation for the workshop, and posted them on this blog. Since then, I’ve written three more (finishing one just yesterday!), and now this blog entry. After not having any writing ideas for quite a while, after feeling like my creativity was just drying up, I suddenly find inspiration everywhere I look. It’s like having YouTube video suggestions popping up right alongside whatever I’m currently doing. Last evening, I was at a writers’ group in Lincolnton, and the organizer offered us a collection of ‘prompts’ – photos, quotations, tantalizing phrases – and one just hit me, a snowy road at night. Within twenty minutes, I had written the entire opening to my latest story – a story, get this, that I’d been working on for days without feeling I had a good handle on it. Suddenly, thanks to this lucky chance, this serendipity, I was off to a roaring start.
Man, I love that stuff.
So, as the holiday season approaches, with the new year right behind, I am looking out for any serendipitous connections that will spur creativity. My Christmas wish list includes water paints and sketching pencils. What??!! I haven’t done any artwork since I was in the 9th grade, but what the heck. What’s holding me back now? Only me. I didn’t begin writing until I was a baby of 45. Grandma Moses began painting when she was 78 years old, and Helen Hooven Santmyer, who wrote And Ladies of the Club, a whopper of a book, became a best-selling author in her late 80’s. Where am I leading with all this? I guess, just that serendipity happens when you’re open to it. Writing ideas come to me when my antenna are up and out, ready to catch something that otherwise might just pass me by. So here's to YouTube, and all those folks who put their sometimes strangely satisfying obsessions right out there for all of us to watch. How odd it seems that the mathematical algorithms of YouTube can inspire my creativity. Seems like a right brain/left brain paradox. But then, again, that’s serendipity for you.
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