As usual, I’m mad as hell about something, and right now I’m mad about the price of graphing calculators. The anger started building Sunday morning, when my long-suffering wife was perusing the ads stuffed into the State Journal, and announced “look at this….a T-I graphing calculator….they’re still a hundred bucks.” She recalled my ire a decade ago, when we were bullied by our children into buying each of them a $125 graphing calculator for their calculus class at LaFollette High.
We were given to understand that we had essentially no choice in the matter; it had to be a certain type of graphing calculator officially approved by the math-powers-that-be, and it was made by Texas Instruments, and its name was TI-83 or TI-84 or TI-something. One hundred and twenty five dollars a copy, thank you very much. I recall the price quite clearly.
I groused about it to anyone who would listen. When we bought the damn things – I don’t remember where – I recall the price variance among Madison merchants was negligible. And I impressed upon both my young scholars that they’d better take DAMN good care of this investment, because we were not keen on replacing a “lost” graphing calculator.
I also wondered about parents of kids taking calculus who weren’t as economically fortunate as my wife and I, having to cough up that kind of money for an electronic device which, in my estimation, would get approximately 6 to 10 hours of use per week for nine months.
Time passed and the kids graduated from LaFollette and moved on to the UW, and when our daughter, the younger of the two, was packing up to move into Ogg Hall as a Freshman (the old Ogg that was demolished a couple years ago, not the new one), I saw her graphing calculator on the top of a box of stuff which was NOT to be moved into the dorm. I asked her if she ever intended to use it again, and she said “probably not” – so I asked her if I could donate it to LaFollette High.
She said she thought her older brother was no longer using his, and her high school boyfriend probably had his around somewhere, and came up with a few other names. I put her in charge of making the calls and said I’d pick them up if necessary. I called Mike Meissen, who was Principal at LaFollette at the time, and asked if it would be OK if I donated these calculators (we eventually amassed 7 of them), and he said the head of the math department would be DELIGHTED and could quietly make them available to students who were smart in math and short on resources. I cleaned them up, put fresh batteries in them – and each one takes FOUR double-A batteries – and dropped them off at LaFollette.
I relate this tale not to be nominated for sainthood, but to draw attention to the price of technology. In almost every case, the cost of some bit of technology (like a graphing calculator) goes DOWN dramatically over the years, even as minor improvements are made and “new” models come out. Our first HDTV cost us three grand; we replaced it a couple years ago for half that, and got a bigger screen (65”) to boot. When we bought it, it was “last season’s model” and marked down.
I can’t think of a single thing that would explain why the price of a graphing calculator would be essentially the same as it was a decade ago. Texas Instruments has got a REAL good thing going for itself.