Karen Osborne

When I opened the box at the back of my closet, I didn’t know I was going to be sucked into a time warp.

In it were memories of a bygone age: Neon scrunchies, papers for English class, notes passed in class and a bunch of fascinating, obsolete electronics, like my old iRock MP3 digital music player and battered yellow Game Boy.

Once upon a time, the iRock was the only game in town. Slim and silver, it held a dozen MP3 files and didn’t skip when it got bumped around like a Discman did. When my parents bought me an iRock, I finally felt my popularity problems were all over. The iRock made me feel like the coolest person ever.

The effect didn’t last. Soon after, people started arriving at school with the first iPods, and I went back to feeling like a wallflower.

Likewise, bringing a Game Boy to school meant that I felt cool. People would make friends with me just to borrow my Game Boy at lunch, and it didn’t matter that the rudimentary graphics were in black and white. I felt accepted and popular until someone else brought in a Sega Game Gear, which was faster and better.

That’s the problem with growing up in a consumer society: We’re trained to think that buying things will make us happy, popular and fulfilled. Advertisers tell us that we’re going to need all sorts of new things — a new car, phone, clothes — to fit in and succeed in school and in life.

Who hasn’t seen all of those back-to-school ads from the phone companies this year, telling teens and their parents that if they only have this new phone or that new tablet, that they’d be more likely to study and succeed? Be honest: In a battle between Facebook and algebra, who has the advantage?

As usual, those advertisers are wrong. All you have to do is look into the time warp at the back of my closet — or even your own — to see the truth.

How many obsolete toys, games and electronics do you have? How many made you happy or popular?

All of today’s must-have gadgets — smartphones, Google Glass and tablets — are just tools and things. The most common way advertisers try to sell their products is by trying to convince us that it will make us happy, that buying their new gadget will fill the empty spaces in our hearts. All they really do is empty our wallets.

To fit in, to succeed, to be happy and popular, you have to turn your gaze inward.

Instead of buying new technology to make you more popular, think about how you can use the technology you already own to make someone else’s life better. You can tutor someone no matter what computer you have, send someone a compliment on Facebook through an older-model phone or a nice thought via email.

Instead of buying new clothes, mix and match for a unique style, or swap clothes with your friends to switch up your wardrobe.

You can save the money you’d spend on the newest gadget to host a party, which could have a longer-lasting effect on your popularity in high school than the newest iPhone.

What the advertisers don’t want you to know is that it’s not what you have that counts — it’s how you use it.