NEOPHILIA. WHEN MY BOSTON COLLEGE HIGH SCHOOL FRESHMEN encounter this or any other unfamiliar word while reading on their iPads, they need only touch the screen for a nanosecond before Wiktionary flashes a definition: “love of novelty.” The confusion lifts and they move forward, unburdened of a trip to the dictionary and seemingly one word richer. The experience feels like learning. Asked about the word the next day, though, “neophilia” strikes them as novel. They tap their iPads, again.
This year, BC High required all students in grades seven through 10 to buy an iPad, which we’ve chosen as an alternative to textbooks — those threats to spine, wallets, and trees whose demise only the strictest Luddites would lament. But as I consider my iPadded freshmen, the questions proliferate: Isn’t the high-tech world for which we attempt to prepare them awaiting an adept Web navigator, capable of plucking answers from the tangled Net? Or should the student command a body of knowledge and understanding that’s not device-dependent? Should his mind contain a well-stocked internal hard drive, or should he keep his head in The Cloud?