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Does Not Compute

James Lang, Graphic Designer

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If you’re a high school or even a college student, this is something you’re going to want to listen to. First; open up your backpack, have a friend open their backpack too, and then open another and then another. Notice anything that’s in every single backpack? No not pencils… not books or paper… How about a TI Calculator? In some way, shape or form every single one of your peers has a version of the TI Calculator. They could have gotten it in 8th grade or had it passed down from a family member, or even purchased as a freshman, but it doesn’t matter, you all still have one. You all have the same Calculator that was created in 1996 (the same year Google was created). Now I’m sure you’re wondering why is that the case… or you could be asking yourself why you spent over a hundred dollars on a piece of tech older than you. It’s all because of the huge monopoly TI (Texas Institutes) has on the world of calculators.

You’re forced to buy overpriced and outdated pieces of technology for several surprisingly simple reasons. One reason is the TI-series prominence throughout history. At the time of its release in 1996, it was the first reasonably priced handheld graphing calculator on the market. There was no competition, so Texas Institutes slowly rooted itself into the American educational system. Due to the inherently complicated functions and difficult-to-understand programs of a graphic calculator, Texas Instruments has established an organization called Teachers Teaching for Technology (T3). T3 has programs to educate teachers on how to best use Texas Instruments calculators, a hotline called 1-800-TI-CARES and a yearly conference. Due to the fact that no other calculator company has the finances or ability to hold an organization like T3, more advanced calculators are left behind simply because no one knows how to use them.

It’s not like there aren’t better or cheaper options out there. You can go online for free right now and pull up a graphing calculator capable of the same, if not more, than any TI-series. Another reason TI holds a monopoly is because standardized tests like the SAT and ACT have strict rules about what devices students are allowed to use. Companies like Pearson, or College Board, are even payed to use the TI-series within their lessons. When trapped within these small confines of what can and can’t be used, teachers have no choice but to teach using outmoded technology.

At this point you’re probably pretty fed up with this whole monopoly thing, but it’s not over yet. On the financial side of things, Texas Instruments accounted for 93 percent of the U.S. graphing calculator sales from July 2013-June 2014. Their calculator sales continue to be the most profitable item sold by TI, accounting for ~31% of their total yearly profits. But what causes the calculators to be so expensive? Is it the technology? The programs? The materials? The answer to that is none of the above. It’s expensive for same reason as everything else; it holds a monopoly. But how much does it actually cost to build a TI calculator? With a 320×240 pixel screen, 128 kilobytes RAM and 4 megabytes ROM, Blayne Curtis, a research analyst of technology, estimates a TI-84 Plus costs $15-20 to manufacture and has a profit margin of over 50 percent. For comparison, PC builders like Samsung and Chrome have a profit margin under 3%. At one point the technology in the calculator was worth it’s price, but now because there’s no need for TI to improve its technology, students and parents are getting exploited for reasons that they shouldn’t be.

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The student news site of Pingree School in South Hamilton, MA
Does Not Compute