Being Modern: Back to school - the digital years

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The Independent Online

So that's that. Holidays are over. Back to the grindstone. For our little darlings, term starts next Thursday. There's nothing to it, right? A trip to Clarks to replace the shoes we should have binned last Christmas. A stop at M&S for a few bits of uniform. Some form of lunchbox-type thing from TK Maxx. £50 all in? £80 tops. Then basically, they're good to go…

Except, what's this? An email from the nation's most trusted retailer: "Six of the Best Back to School Products". Sounds timely! These would be what, precisely? Sensible notebooks? A new Helix Oxford maths set? Perhaps a Casio calculator? Actually no. This autumn, John Lewis apparently reckons my angels would benefit from a whole new IT upgrade, including a Dell Ultrabook (£599.95) and a Canon Pixma Wireless Printer (£59.95). Well, thanks guys. I can see why you're never knowingly undersold.

And, what's that? Another email! This one's from Apple. It's their "Back to School Buying Guide", packed with "sound solutions for the academic year", including the Philips ShoqBox Wireless Speaker (£159.95) and an Ally Capellino satchel "designed exclusively for the MacBook Pro" (£164.95). Actually, I wouldn't mind one of those bags myself; but isn't this all getting a bit ridiculous?

It's easy to blame the Yanks, of course. Like Hallowe'en, the Back to School period is something we've known about for years, but only recently has America really shown us how to market the thing. Over here, figures are still scarce; but in the US, according to, it's now the second-biggest consumer event of the year for retailers, behind only the Christmas holidays. The average family with school-age children spends $688 getting ready for autumn term – or a total of $30.3bn, up 22 per cent year-on-year.

Oh well, we shouldn't grumble. It's just the modern world, isn't it? And who's that? Well, if it's not my nine-year-old daughter. What's that, darling? Am I not aware that everyone in Year 5 has an iPod Touch? Furthermore, have I entirely missed the fact that the Apple Store is only a short drive away? Well, I'd heard a rumour...