Twists of Fate

How the pandemic ruined happenstance

In the television series The Newsroom, the young producer Maggie Jordan lands her biggest scoop when she overhears a bureaucrat on a train. It’s not really that far-fetched: I once sat beside a Liberal operative on a flight to Vancouver, and our conversation became the basis of an article I published in the Independent. A friend, an interior designer, got her start when she sat beside her future boss at a conference. I also know an artist whose career was sparked while queuing for a music festival. A random sixtysomething man simply asked her the most random of questions: “What do you think about when you aren’t thinking of anything?” Until then, she seemed destined to be a mechanic.

Now with COVID-19, we take fewer train and plane rides; our conferences and festivals are virtual; and with physical distancing measures and many venues accepting only pre-bookings, our interactions with the...