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Today’s students choosing laptops and USB keys over pens, paper


The old rhyme "no more paper, no more books, no more teachers' dirty looks" may be truer today than ever before - at least when it comes to the paper and the books.

A decade ago, a typical school backpack would be stuffed with a calculator, pens, highlighters, notebooks and three-ringed binders filled with lined paper.

But this week, as students start to head back to school, the contents of their backpacks will be much different.
USB memory sticks and portable hard drives have replaced notebooks and paper, while laptops are being used to take notes instead of pencils and binders.

“If you think back 10 years ago, certainly kids weren’t bringing notebook computers to school,” says Rick Atkinson, the director of merchandising at Staples, Inc. “Generally everything was written on paper and that’s how they took notes.”

As computer prices continue to drop – especially since the exploding popularity of tiny, inexpensive netbooks – laptops and their accessories are finding their way into more school backpacks.

While high-tech school supplies are common in colleges and universities, the wired world is also creeping into high schools, said Atkinson.

“We’re seeing more and more notebooks picked up by younger and younger crowds. There are lots of students picking those up just because they’re economical. And because they’re so small and ultra-portable, it’s pretty easy to take them to classes,” he said.

“I think typewriters cost more than that back when I was going to university.”

Atkinson said students are also buying USB drives to share information – today’s equivalent of comparing notes and sharing homework – and portable hard drives to ensure their computer doesn’t eat their homework.

“If anything happened to your homework or essays or your laptop, you have it saved somewhere,” he said.

Apple’s ubiquitous iPod Touch and iPhone devices have also become popular back-to-school sellers, said Atkinson. Both are equipped with a scientific calculator, and have the ability to hold a year’s worth of textbooks, with plenty of room left over for music.

Jacob Scott, who’s about to start his first year at the University of King’s College in Halifax, is part of the high-tech back-to-school trend. He bought a laptop for the upcoming school year.

“I have definitely been seeing a lot of other students taking similar technological routes for their back-to-school shopping,” he said. “I was actually quite surprised to have attended a party a couple of weeks ago where virtually everyone had purchased or was on the brink of purchasing a new laptop for university.”

The Ottawa resident said he’ll also be packing his external hard-drive, mouse and speakers.

He said switching to a computer instead of traditional paper was an obvious choice.

“I type considerably faster than I write, and I knew that it would be an easier way to keep my notes and assignments organized,” he said.

The high-tech trend is so strong that peer pressure has come into play for post-secondary school students, said Katherine Giroux-Bougard, chairwoman of the Canadian Federation of Students.

“There’s a growing number of students that are bringing their laptops to take notes on. There’s a lot of pressure on students to buy a laptop,” she said.

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