Physical browsing and passive discovery

I am a big believer in stumbling upon things; being in an environment where something catches your eye that you were perhaps not exactly looking for, but which takes you off to discover other things / stories. This is different to active search. This is great to do by physically wandering around areas of a new environment with particular attributes, say, the cultural quarter of an unfamiliar city. I have also been keen to investigate how digital technology can assist, but not remove, the element of serendipity in discovery. Sometime ago I supervised an Honours Dissertation looking at mobile, passive resource discovery, (Stabeler, 2006), and I revisited this with another Honours Student (Harding, 2011) who looked at digital navigation across physical objects in similar and differing contexts. Both interesting, digital, geospatial search prototypes.

When I arrived in Sydney, my first exploration of the area I am staying in was to walk down the main street (Norton Street in Leichhardt) and to call into various shops and cafes. After walking into Berkelouw Books, I realised there was an extensive second-hand department upstairs. As I have started research for a terrain visualization project related to the Blue Mountains National Park (the project itself came from a serendipitous discovery in book from 1815, shortly before I left the UK), but did not have any fixed view on what I was looking for yet, I thought I would see what I could find.  One of the first books I saw was “Landscape Art and the Blue Mountains”, by Hugh Speirs, this turned out to be a good reference to start with when looking at the history of the visual depiction of this region.

The human search engine of physical browsing and passive discovery is a useful tool when it comes to making unintended but often useful discoveries. There are still many interesting areas to explore when looking at improving search in a digital geospatial context.