Gadgets and the Back-to-School Set Commentator Laura Lorson talks about the huge amount of stuff -- and mind-boggling number of cell phone minutes -- that the average student seems to need as part of the annual back-to-school shopping spree.

Gadgets and the Back-to-School Set

Gadgets and the Back-to-School Set

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Commentator Laura Lorson talks about the huge amount of stuff — and mind-boggling number of cell phone minutes — that the average student seems to need as part of the annual back-to-school shopping spree.


Well football season is also back-to-school season, and these days that's a pretty expensive proposition.

Commentator Laura Lorson can remember when heading back to class was not a time for conspicuous consumption.

LAURA LORSON: I've been noticing a lot of ads touting big back-to-school sales. I can't really say I've paid all that much attention - I don't have kids, I'm not a teacher - but what caught my attention about this year's crop of ads is what they're putting on sale. Game Boys, cell phones, satellite TV dishes, dorm room furnishings designed by people generally known for their Paris couture, computers with 1,000 times the power of the batch that put a man on the moon.

Well, back at the dawn of the '80s when I headed back off to school, I was generally tricked out with one new sweater, one new skirt, a new pair of Toughskins and some tennis shoes. When I graduated from high school and set out for college, my parents gave me a suitcase and a typewriter. I mean, they were nice - a Samsonite and Selectric with auto-correct - but I got the distinct feeling that my parents were essentially saying have fun, sweetie, write if you find work.

But now it is apparently beyond the pale to move into, say, ninth grade with anything less than a new iPod, a refrigerator, a Blackberry, a titanium-clad laptop and I guess a Hummer to haul all this stuff around in. I really fail to see where all of this is actually necessary to go back to school - you know, that place where you sit at desks for eight hours a day and move when the ring a bell?

I understand where someone might want all of this stuff, but I absolutely don't get when this massive technological fashion shift somehow made it all mandatory. These days when I walk around the University of Kansas campus, I am endlessly astonished by the throngs of students walking from building to building all talking on cell phones. Because I'm a recreational eavesdropper, I was completely sucked in by one particular one-sided conversation.

The girl was wearing flip-flops, a thrift store shirt, some ugly glasses and a tie-dyed miniskirt. Yeah, I just got out of English. I'm going to Chemistry. Oh yeah, there you are walking past me. Hi. And then I watched these two women continue to talk to each other on their cell phones despite the fact that they were face to face. Yeah, whatever. I know it's the fashion for people who are no longer in one particular age demographic to gripe about the next generation, but seriously, what's up with that?

I suppose I'm being way too harsh here. Maybe this current batch of back-to- school students is, I don't know, listening to podcasts of particularly memorable calculus lectures or text messaging the librarians about Yeats or something. Technology is wonderful and mind expanding. It's the motor that drives the economy. I just wonder if in 20 years these same kids will be grown and out of school telling their own kids that they got by just fine with only a cell phone, high speed Internet and an iBook, wondering what on earth a student actually needs with hovercraft and neural-interface chips.

SIEGEL: Laura Lorson works for Kansas Public Radio. She fruitlessly searches for Selectric ribbons in her hometown, Perry, Kansas.

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