The Power Of Surprise And Delight

If you go to Google.com and type “let it snow” in the search box, you’ll get a lovely little surprise: softly falling snow and an increasingly frosty window until all your search results are obscured. The frost is easily cleared by tapping the defrost button.

Delightful!

Go to your iPhone and ask Siri to, say,talk dirty to me and -- surprise! -- she’ll respond: “Humus. Compost. Pumice. Silt. Gravel.” (Oh, that Siri…)

For those of us who’ve worked in Silicon Valley for years, it’s no surprise that geeks have a sense of humor. But to most others, a piece of hardware cracking wise or an algorithm bestowing a moment of genuine holiday cheer is akin to a small revelation. 

It’s the power of surprise and delight. And too often, we miss opportunities to tap into that power.

For many, many adults, viewing the holidays through the eyes of a child is especially satisfying because, of course, the various delights of the season have become well-worn and predictable. When seeing a city covered in sparkling holiday lights or the pile of presents under a Christmas tree, children invariably are surprised and delighted, their faces lit up with the wonder of it all. 

In 2011, we lost Steve Jobs. He understood this childish impulse, and that we adults long to return to it periodically. He understood magic. His last words, reportedly, were “oh wow, oh wow” -- fitting for a man who inspired so many to say the same when turning on one of his many hit products for the first time. 

It’s funny: When you’re a kid, all you want to do is grow up fast and claim your independence. It doesn’t occur to you to savor or revel in the things that make you say “Oh wow!” But once you’re an adult, each year you work a little harder than the last to reclaim just a bit of that wonder and awe as it inexorably retreats in the rearview mirror that is life. For one reason or another, most of us just aren’t like Steve Jobs, sadly.  It’s hard to see wonder in our everyday lives.

Still, the memory of those “oh wow” moments exerts a powerful force.

While some people chase the impulse to tap into childlike delight through various pulse-quickening diversions such as sky dives or cliff dives or visits to dives of seedier dimensions, most of us come to accept that life, as it winds along and eventually down, offers fewer and fewer of these moments. 

Which is why everyone talks with such raw enthusiasm when Apple or Google does something that is genuinely surprising. Because most adults really don’t expect to be surprised or delighted very often, if at all, when it does happen, the moment is all the sweeter.

Life can be hard. In fact, 2011 was particularly hard for far too many people. Revolution is in the air, from the streets of Cairo to America’s public squares to remote villages in China. Too many young people are unemployed around the world. Soldiers are returning from war broken and exhausted. And after 30 years of credit-fueled binge-living in what we once referred to as “developed nations,” people calling themselves Tea Partiers and the 99 percent have woken up to an economic hangover requiring something far stronger than aspirin to relieve.  

And yet the human spirit commands us to hope. To strive. To keep trying.

As we awaken each day, ready to redouble our efforts to make this day a little better than the last, we look for those little things that help us along.  And so when that young Iraq war vet sits down in the public library and cracks open a browser on the computer in the carrel in the corner of the building,  types “let it snow,”, and experiences a brief moment of surprise and then delight, the natural desire to hope and to dream is helped along. Even if just a little.

That’s a powerful, powerful gift.



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