A pril 6, 2013, was the day I purchased a laser printer for less than one hundred dollars. For an additional $18 dollars, I purchased an extended warranty and for an additional $15 dollars, an Ink & Toner Savings Card/Keytag. I joked with the cashier while flashing a large collection of keytags.
“I alphabetized them so I could find them. Do I put this new one under ‘I’ for ink, ‘T’ for toner, or ‘S’ for Staples?”
She recommended S for Staples.
“I know I’m giving away my age,” I added, leaning in a bit as if I were letting her in on a secret, “but when I bought my first laser printer, it cost me over $1,200 dollars.”
“It’s still up in my attic. The thing won’t die.”
I’m still in shock at how much the prices of these things — computers; laser printers, and other gadgets — have dropped over the years. Theoretically I should be swimming in dough with all the savings. But while the prices of these goods have dropped, gasoline has gone from 75 cents a gallon, when I started driving, to $4 dollars a gallon. Monthly phone bills have gone from $24 dollars per month — there were no cell phones or internets to worry about when I got my first apartment — to $400 dollars per month for four cell phones, internet access, Hulu and NetFlix. To put that in perspective, my first apartment cost me $500 per month. Home prices, in parts of Brooklyn, went from $34,000 dollars to well over $400,000 dollars or more. When I went to college, tuition was so low that I could pay for each semester in full simply by working some part time jobs.
It seems that in a few decades, the world has turned upside down. We’re drowning in affordable must have gadgets, the very same gadgets that cost $1,000 dollars or more when they first appeared on the market. Over the years we rejoiced as the prices kept dropping, making them more affordable for more people. But while our gaze was focused on the deluge of affordable gadgets that make up the basic staples of modern life, the other staples of modern life, the ones with lasting value — home; education; secure retirement; secure job — have become astronomically expensive, beyond the reach of more and more people, and in the case of secure jobs, have disappeared altogether.
I wonder if it’s possible to turn back the clock, to go back to 75-cents-per-gallon gasoline and $1,000 dollar laser printers. If that can be done then maybe, just maybe, I can get back my union job, my rotary dial phone with its $24 dollar per month bill and, for the sake of my children’s education, maybe they can get $600 dollar per semester tuition at the local college.