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Is serendipity dead? A freshman's mom wonders

Author Christina Baker Kline ’86 (whose novel Orphan Train we reviewed in our last issue) and her husband David Kline ’86 just dropped off their son at Yale. In a guest column in the Star-Ledger, she frets about how her son's constant online connection and access to instant information might cause him and his classmates to miss out on "the unexpected pleasures of getting lost":

I suspect it’s unlikely that he will ever, as I did, trek all the way across campus on a snowy day to a friend’s dorm room, only to find that person gone but another roommate available, and making a new friend in the process. He won’t have to type and retype his papers—using Wite-Out, no less!—to make revisions, finding in that process new insights into what he’s written. I doubt that he’ll make his way to a common room at 9 p.m. every Sunday to watch a specific TV show (L.A. Law, I’m thinking of you), bonding with a hearty group of loyalists.

I think fondly of the rabbit holes I disappeared down when I researched papers for history and English because I couldn’t find quite what I was looking for, or because I had to go through so much material to find examples for my thesis. When you can type a few words into a search engine and land on your topic—or when you can scan a Shakespeare play for specific words or symbols—what opportunities might you miss to expand your thinking in unexpected ways?

I worry that students today are more connected and more fragmented, learning more about one another from afar but watching programs on their iPads in their rooms. The knowledge they have at their fingertips may make them more productive, but it may also blunt the thrill of unanticipated discovery.

Sometime in my first week on that long-ago campus, I found myself hopelessly lost, scrutinizing an indecipherable map, when a freshman boy came up to me. “Can I help you with that?” he asked, and though he didn’t know his way around any better than I did, we figured it out together. Twenty-three years of marriage later, we’re still figuring it out.

Read the rest here.

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