jansportBooks have contributed to the development of a number of interesting technologies, not least of those being e-books. But both books and e-books have contributed to the development of a technology far more humble and ubiquitous—something people these days take for granted: the humble knapsack. NPR Ed has an interesting feature article tracing the history of the development of that scourge of spinal straightness, the humble school kid’s backpack.

It’s funny to consider that, for most of the 20th century, kids didn’t have a handy way to tote their books around with them. They just…carried them. But gradually, the rucksack developed for hiking and camping gradually made its way into college bookstores and then outfitter stores and catalogs aimed at ordinary people. Then ordinary people started buying them for school use, and backpack manufacturers started making them specifically for school use.

The funny thing is, I was entering school in the early 1980s, right about the time when the grade-schooler backpack was first taking off, but I don’t remember it as being anything new and amazing at the time. Perhaps it’s just that, like today’s kids with smartphones and tablets, I simply hadn’t lived in a time when we didn’t have them.

Ironically, backpacks also influenced the development of e-books and tablets—the realization that carrying around all their textbooks was giving kids back problems helped make lightening the load with e-books more attractive. But by the same token, e-books, tablets, and laptops have been influencing the recent development of the backpack. Where old-school backpacks were designed with textbooks in mind, modern backpacks are designed for tablets and laptops. They’ve also been supplemented by over-the-shoulder “messenger bags” (like my gadget bag) that serve the same sort of purpose. And iconic backpack manufacturer Jansport has developed the “Digital Burrito,” a wallet-like pouch equipped with multiple loops to hold multiple cables securely without tangling. (It looks intriguing enough that I just ordered one myself. It’ll make a handy addition to my gadget bag.)

Backpacks are here to stay, and as we change the things we carry with us, we’re also changing the way we carry them. For that matter, our clothes are changing, too: blue jeans when I were growing up always had a small pocketwatch pocket inside the right hip pocket, but now they’re more likely to have a smartphone pocket. I wonder what new thing we might be carrying tomorrow?


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