ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

The three Rs go high tech

In past generations, back to school shopping was simple. Some pencils, some notebooks and folders, a few paper grocery bags to make book covers and a bit of new clothing. And possibly an "A Team" lunch box.

In past generations, back to school shopping was simple. Some pencils, some notebooks and folders, a few paper grocery bags to make book covers and a bit of new clothing. And possibly an "A Team" lunch box.
As with so many things, in the 21st century, life is different.
More and more, keeping up in school means investing in technology. Now, parents are loading up on laptop computers, cellular phones, handhelds and calculators boasting functions once only found in computers the size of a city block.
Jack Eystad and Andy Busan, two sales consultants at Office Depot downtown, are expecting a rush as Northland students head back to class.
"That's our biggest time of year," said Eystad at the store recently.
What's big? Palm Pilots and similar handheld computing devices, which run from $150 to more than $600, are popular among the college set, said Busan, but for high school, where it's really at is calculators.
Calculators? They have been around for generations, right? Well, not like these.
"The graphing calculators, they're really big," said Busan, who will soon be heading off to college himself.
Three dimensional graphing capabilities, advanced statistical and algebra functions and even some calculus abilities come packed into these things now.
And "they've upgraded the displays physically somewhat," Busan said, noting that some now come with color.
The "old" statistical calculators are now down below $10, and some relatively powerful machines are below $5, with high-end prices going over $100.
Another popular item for high schoolers is the biggest ticket technology item of all for classrooms -- a laptop computer, which sometimes runs thousands of dollars. Students can take them to study hall to work on a report or even use multimedia capabilities to develop a presentation.
"If somebody has the funds, they go up to a DVD player," noted Eystad.
Laptops are one place where students shopping for deals can really pay off. Eystad said he was selling a machine the other day, and the price changed -- for the better -- while the sale was in progress. He recently sold laptops for as little as $600, he said.
"At that point, for what they were getting for their dollar value, they scored," he said.
Student infatuation with technology doesn't end with the classroom, though. With falling cellular phone prices and busy schedules afflicting students and parents alike, wireless communications have become popular with area students and their families, note local sellers.
"Everybody can really justify having a phone (now)," said Tony Hill, manager at Cellular Express in downtown Duluth.
Randy Hill (no relation), owner of Wireless World in Duluth, said the trend has been in place for a year and has a lot to do with tech fascination among younger customers.
But it doesn't end there.
"More importantly, I think their parents support the idea," he said.
{IMG2}
Safety and security concerns, along with immediate voice capabilities, have helped cell phones supplant pagers as communication devices of choice.
"Parents are concerned about being able to get a hold of their kids. A pager just doesn't cut it," said Tony Hill.
"For security and safety and whereabouts, it's a great value," said Randy Hill of the cell phone boom.
There are issues, of course. One of the first to come up is credit -- many plans require some sort of credit history because of variable bills. In many cases, parents co-sign the agreement. Another option is prepaid plans, which are offered by Cellular Express.
On the plus side, prepaid plans don't pose the credit issues, and they're resistant to abuse, another issue among parents. Prepaid plans can also give parents a good idea of how kids will use their phones while shopping for a long-term plan.
On the downside, many prepaid plans can offer challenges for those who want the flexibility to call long distance or roam, and they must be renewed when the prepaid time is used up.
Beyond these considerations, cell phone programs range dramatically, in price and service. Many offer voice mail and caller ID, and soon other features, such as e-mail, will be more widely available; some are restricted to local use and others allow almost unlimited time anywhere, anytime. Costs range from around $20 to more than $100. Some plans even allow a second line on an existing parent's line for as little as $10.
Customers are advised to shop around, as promotions take place several times throughout the year.
"(Parents) should make sure they're matching the right rate plan and coverage to what they really want their kids to have," Randy Hill added.
Technology may have forever altered the face of back-to-school shopping. One wonders how well cell phones work for nagging ... guess that's why they invented caller ID.

What To Read Next
The system crashed earlier this month, grounding flights across the U.S.