Wieseltier attempts to distinguish between "searching" and "browsing" as an economic activity. Here's his take:
Browsing is not idleness; or rather, it is active idleness – an exploring capacity, a kind of questing non-instrumental behavior. Browsing is the opposite of "search." Search is precise, browsing is imprecise. When you search, you find what you were looking for; when you browse, you find what you were not looking for. Search corrects your knowledge; browsing corrects your ignorance. Search narrows, browsing enlarges. It does so by means of accidents, of unexpected adjacencies and improbable associations.
This distinction is important for economists. We tend to imagine (in neoclassical certainty) that rational individuals have fixed preferences that they themselves know. Homo economicus only searches, knowing ahead of time what is being looked for. To heterodox people (which would include most of us), we often don't know what we're looking for. Our preferences are waiting to be informed. Browsing is a lovely activity; it is a journey, not a destination or outcome.
Warsh makes the point that newspaper readers are browsing. They flip the page not knowing what they'll find: they rely on an editor's judgments as to what they should be reading. In the olden days I would descend into the library stacks, knowing a call number of a book I was searching for. But quickly I'd be waylaid by enticing offerings I'd stumble on along the way—offerings acquired by knowledgeable librarians.
Do we do enough browsing today? Does the Internet make it easier or harder? What are the implications for surprise and serendipity, wonder and wisdom?