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High-tech gift-giving Students want computers, phones


Ask the average college student what he or she wants for a holiday gift and you generally will get a simple, one-word answer: Money.

But pin them down on specific wants and it will be something on the cutting edge of technology: high-power computers for gaming and Internet purposes; multimedia hardware that includes speakers, motion-video capabilities, fax modems and CD-ROMs; and cellular phones with telephone, voice mail, paging and faxing features.

Frances Huffman, editor and publisher of U, The National College Magazine, says student desire for high-tech gifts has been high for some time and is getting higher.

"I think that in terms of technology, they're definitely really gung-ho," she says.

Sales at college book stores and computer and electronic stores reflect that, and store officials say customers are a mix of students buying their own equipment and parents purchasing it as gifts.

"The day after Thanksgiving, people realize they lived without a computer this semester and now they want one for the next semester," says Todd Creasy, a computer department retailer in the University Bookstore at the University of Maryland College -- Park.

This can translate into holiday gifts.

One of the fastest moving items in the University of Maryland Baltimore County Bookstore is Zip drives, says Bob Somers, the store's director.

The removable hard drives hold 100 megabytes - the equivalent of about 70 diskettes - and allow computer users to transfer large files of information from one computer to another. His bookstore sells the hardware for $189.95 with a $50 rebate, says Somers.

"It is the solution on this campus," Somers says. "We have sold so many of those things around here."

Huffman's magazine, a free insert distributed with student newspapers at 300 colleges and universities, has surveyed undergraduates around the nation on their wish lists for at least the past four years.

This year's questionnaire - answered by 675 students at 25 schools across the country - divided responses into 14 categories from technology and communications to transportation and personal care.

Among this year's winners, Huffman says, were computers (whether they're laptops or desktop stations), new Internet applications, CD-ROMs, printers, cellular phones, cordless phones and beepers.

"There's always something we need to add on to the list for them to choose from," she says, explaining that the editors had to split the bicycle category into mountain and touring types.

Students may be technology-driven, but they are surprisingly practical, Huffman says.

"When given questions about whether they want an in-your-dreams trip to Paris or a car that never breaks down, they want the car," says Huffman.

As one sign of that, Somers of UMBC Bookstore says, students are particularly attracted to word processing programs, spreadsheets and home page creators for the World Wide Web. "They're staying with productivity and operating systems, not entertainment," he says.

Scott Thompson, 21, a senior chemical engineering major at the University of Maryland College Park, said he wants a cordless phone for the holidays.

"I live in a suite with a common room," says Thompson. "Being able to walk around with a cordless makes things easier."

In addition to all the high-tech requests, there are the old standbys that college students always have.

"I want cash to solve my money problems," says Amanda Kraybill, 18 and a freshman at College Park. "My [money] problems are that I don't have any."

Ron Tribel, 20, a senior biochemistry major at College Park, wants his money in a different form.

"Laundry quarters," he says, laughing. "It's one of the few gifts I need every year."

Pub Date: 12/08/96

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