Jonathan Henderson says he usually walks around the University of Maryland campus carrying no more than $30. But a closer look reveals that he is carrying much more than that -- at least in electronics.
The 20-year-old junior packs a cell phone, headphones, music player and a laptop. He is among a growing number of college students who are redefining the notion of school supplies as they head back to class this year.
As technology has become more sophisticated, so too, have students. Whereas in years past, students would show up at school with their pencils and pens, notebooks and rulers, today's students are arming themselves with the latest and hippest in portable computers with wireless Internet access and expensive graphing calculators.
When classes resume, many students will also be toting electronic organizers, iPods and Web-enabling cell phones, all of which can add up to several thousand dollars.
The popularity of such items was borne out in a recent national survey of 736 incoming college freshmen by electronics retailer Best Buy, which found that 83 percent said that a cell phone was a necessity, and 66 percent said the same about a laptop.
The Harris Poll and New York-based Alloy Media and Marketing surveyed 1,638 college students to identify their technology leanings and found that 85 percent of them own a cell phone, up from 67 percent three years ago. The survey results were released last month.
Cell phones, in particular, are staples for college students, many of whom have abandoned land-line phones.
"Cell phones are needed because people don't bring regular phones to their dorm rooms," said Lynette Anderson, 17, a District resident who will be attending Bowie State University this fall.
Students also like the text-messaging and picture-taking features that come with cell phones.
Laptops are also expected to be big on campus, their growing popularity bolstered by features such as the ability to play and record DVDs.
But what's really attractive about the laptop is its mobility. Unlike desktops, laptops can be used just about anywhere.
"It's all about portability," said George DeSesso, a manager at the Fair Lakes Center Best Buy store in Fairfax.
Many major universities are accommodating this trend by providing wireless Internet access on campus, including the University of Maryland, which has made many of its high-traffic areas wireless-friendly.
"We're seeing campuses that are hot spots for wireless Internet, so [students] are looking for laptops with that capability," DeSesso said.
Still, many colleges and universities do not have the ability to provide Internet access to their students, so desktops remain a practical, and less expensive, option.
David Edge, 18, a sophomore at Prince George's Community College, said he prefers the desktop to the laptop because of its lack of portability.
"I don't travel much and I don't want to bring my computer on the bus," he said.
Need for Entertainment
Much of what drives the purchase of this high-tech equipment is communication.
"It's all about connecting to your peers," said Samantha Skey, Alloy Media and Marketing's senior vice president for strategic marketing. "It's doing what your friends do."
Skey cited the explosion of camera phones as an example. Although camera phones' image quality is inferior to that of low-end digital cameras, they are still a popular feature.
"Camera phones are completely social," Skey said. "It's entirely for your friends' amusement."
For many tech-savvy people, camera phones and other technological gadgets also satisfy the need to be entertained constantly.
Take the digital music player, such as the popular Apple iPod, which allows users to carry weeks worth of music in a device the size of a deck of cards.
Owners of such gadgets said they are careful to safeguard their belongings.
One recent day as he sat in Maryland's student union, a pair of CD player headphones around his neck, Henderson pondered the idea of carrying an iPod and other items that thieves find tempting. "I don't plan on getting one because of theft," he said, adding that he thinks iPods, in particular, are vulnerable to that.
One reason for this is because the plain, no-frills designs of products like the iPod make them hard to distinguish from one another.
"Sometimes it's hard to keep it safe because people are walking around with the same thing," Anderson said of the iPod.
Manufacturers have responded to this concern by designing backpacks that have special compartments for laptops and other electronics so students can carry and store their high-tech items without advertising them.
Henderson is bullish on the safety of his laptop.
"I take it anywhere," he said. "Even in the bathroom."