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What Happened to All That Stuff?

Updated on October 23, 2011

What happened to all that stuff? There are millions of products that are now unsaleable because they've been replaced with something newer and better. There are warehouses full of obsolete technology. The American culture and marketing techniques thrive on planned obsolescence. What happened to all that stuff? What happened to...

  1. Typewriters
  2. Flash bulbs
  3. Camcorders
  4. LP Records
  5. 8-track tapes. Remember those?
  6. Cassette tapes
  7. Reel-to-reel recording equipment
  8. Phone cords
  9. Video Tapes
  10. Mimeographs
  11. Film
  12. Manual Channel Changers on TV's
  13. Floppy Diskettes
  14. Teletype Machines
  15. Transistor Radios

What has happened to all that stuff; things that were new twenty years ago and are still sitting, unused and unsold, on a shelf somewhere because they got replaced with something else before they all could get sold? What has happened to all the perfectly good stuff sitting in people's attics and garages; electronics that still work...(your Commodore computer?), games, all manner of phone equipment...what has happened to all that stuff?

All lthat stuff cost money to make and used up resources. What happened to it? What is it actually worth now, compared to the time, labor and resources that went into making it? Is all that stuff just wasted?

I don't think it used to be a problem. People didn't look around to replace what they had until it was broken beyond repair or used up. It was a simple matter of personal economics.

Now, it's another story. We've got a Pavlovian response going. To keep up with the ever-increasing pace of technological advances, we buy the latest thing long before the old thing has outlived its usefulness.

We have warehouses full of floppy diskettes sitting around. Crates and boxes and cartons of floppy disks that no one is ever going to buy, representing hundreds of thousands of dollars.

We have further warehouses full of LP recordings, sitting there, cased neatly and stacked on pallets and gathering dust, for the last forty years.

We have even more warehouses full of cameras that operate using film. Yeah, that's right-film. Remember when you had to take the film in to get it developed?

The digital revolution outpaced especially the photography and music industries. They both have tons, literally tons of stuff tied up in dead inventories the world over. The bigger stuff--computers, copiers, fax machines, televisions, are still a huge problem of overproduction of stuff that's obsolete, given the pace of technological advances.

What happened to all that stuff? It didn't just disappear. It's stil on the books, in most cases, even though the company has no hope at all of liquidating it or selling it retail.

Maybe you're thinking, so what? Oh, well. Tough nuggets, big deal. You have a few things sitting in your basement that are in working order but obsolete.

Not only in your basement. There are literally warehouses, all over the world, filled to the rafters with un-dead electronic equipment and peripherals.

Here's the kicker. The business who own this inventory that is no longer marketable don't write it off. It stays and stays and stays on their books. They show it as "live" inventory and saleable products. They do this in order to get business loans and to rescue the value of their capital stock (if it's a publicly traded company) when this inventory is rendered obsolete by something new. They don't just suddenly (or even gradually) write off ten or fifteen million dollars worth of inventory. The stock would drop as the profits went down and the shareholders lost faith.

The book value, and therefore the market value (though not directly corresponding) shows an inflated value of what the company is worth. Stockholders are mis-informed about the net profits, since none of the un-dead inventory is written off. The actual value of the inventory is much, much lower, because it includes so much merchandise that is unsold and obsolete, which will never be sold. It only has salvage value, if any, at maybe 2 or 3 cents on the dollar for what is listed. The books don't reflect this.

Instead, it all stays on the books. There might be about 300 billion dollars worth of outmoded merchandise sitting in warehouses, virtually unsaleable due to technological advances from the last five years . And it's all still on the books. And it's all still part of the market value of any tech stock you buy.

Where DID this number, 300 billion dollars, come from? I read two books on planned obsolescence and obsolete technology. The first was the better-researched, published two years ago, putting the number at about 100 billion. The second, which was published 3 months ago, put the number at 1.2 trillion dollars. I thought the second book was overstating the case and wasn't sure I trusted the author's research. I'm not saying any of those numbers, including my own, are correct--I definitely have the idea that no one can say for certain.

I can't imagine what's ultimately going to happen to all this STUFF! Can you? If it all suddenly was disposed of, it would cause a recycling nightmare! And that would be secondary to the stock market crash.


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    • Paradise7 profile image

      Paradise7 6 years ago from Upstate New York

      You said, it, Jama. I just hate to think of all that money wasted, all those resources used up, for something no one will ever have a use for, again. Thanks for the comment.

    • JamaGenee profile image

      Joanna McKenna 6 years ago from Central Oklahoma

      At some point I either have to spend a ton getting my video tapes converted to DVD or simply buy the same movies on DVD. Either way, planned obsolescence is not not only expensive to the consumer and companies with warehouses full of stuff they can't sell, it just a huge pain in the patootie to stay on top of "progress".

    • Paradise7 profile image

      Paradise7 7 years ago from Upstate New York

      Yeah, explorer. I even go back to LP's, which are antiques with no equipment to play them on! Thanks for the comment.

    • explorer9360 profile image

      explorer9360 7 years ago

      My little sister has no idea what a video tape is...and my really large video tape collection - representing 10 years of my growing years - is now trash. :-(

    • Paradise7 profile image

      Paradise7 7 years ago from Upstate New York

      Thanks, Carolina, for visiting! Yeah, I KNOW!

    • carolina muscle profile image

      carolina muscle 7 years ago from Charlotte, North Carolina

      I don't know why this never occured to me.. fascinating idea! Makes the implications of Moores Law even scarier when you think about it. Great hub!!

    • Paradise7 profile image

      Paradise7 8 years ago from Upstate New York

      Goodness knows, Mark. It scares me because it's escalating, because of Moore's law. I wrote a little hub about that in "Having Trouble Keeping Up?" but Moore's law is worth a google or two, also.

    • Mark Rollins profile image

      Mark Rollins 8 years ago

      I never knew about all this stuff. It's funny, but I'm looking at my iPod right now. How long before all those get shoved in a warehouse?

    • Paradise7 profile image

      Paradise7 8 years ago from Upstate New York

      Thanks for coming back, Veronica. I appreciate your diligence in doing that. I should have written it better the first time!

    • Veronica Allen profile image

      Veronica Allen 8 years ago from Georgia

      Thanks for the detailed explanation. I understand it much more clearly. Now I understand the magnitude of this issue. It's quite mindboggling - the figures and the fact that there is nothing the Security Exchange Commission can do about it.

    • Paradise7 profile image

      Paradise7 8 years ago from Upstate New York

      And here I promised to stop hammering this issue. Ah, well, after I'm done with the Hub Challenge I'm gonna come back and re-write this hub and do a better job. I'll make it all a lot clearer in the body of the hub and elaborate a little more.

      Sometimes I err on the side of brevity in the body of the hub, because I don't think people have a lot of time to read these days. But still, being so brief as to leave everyone all confused about a topic I care about isn't good either, is it?

    • Paradise7 profile image

      Paradise7 8 years ago from Upstate New York

      Veronica, it wasn't you, it was me that expressed it badly. No brain fart on your part--most of the comments reflected the same thing.

      It is, and it isn't, fudging the numbers to keep these inventory assets on the books at their original finished cost value until they are sold, or disposed of. Even if the value on the books is vastly overstated for obsolete merchandise, it stays at the "finished goods cost" value, unless the company is honest enough to adjust those figures. When obsolete inventory is disposed of, then the company HAS to show the loss. They have no choice. When the inventory is sold, the company HAS to show the profit or loss from the difference between the selling price and the finished goods cost. They have no choice.

      But, if the stuff just sits there...No adjustment is made. The balance sheet reflects, on the asset side, the value of the "finished goods" inventory at cost. Even if in actual fact they couldn't give the stuff away. Even if in actually they'd have to pay someone to take the stuff away.

      And there isn't a thing the Security Exchange Commission, who monitors publicly traded companies, can do about that.

    • Veronica Allen profile image

      Veronica Allen 8 years ago from Georgia

      Oh, okay, I get now! Sorry, I occasionally get brain farts! But isn't what they are doing considered "fudging the numbers?"

    • Paradise7 profile image

      Paradise7 8 years ago from Upstate New York

      Part of my point is that the balance sheets are incorrect. They have never been adjusted for the declining value of obsolete merchandise. Oh, well, I'm gonna quit hammering on that issue. Nobody's as shook by it, so I don't want to annoy people. I guess you'd have to read the whole book, or have some accounting background like I do to fully appreciate the financial implications.

      These are interesting comments. It's so good to get feedback, and especially to get other people's take on this. That's the good part, for me, is reading the comments. Thank you all for your contributions. The buggy whip thing. If I ever re-write this to do a better job, I might just steal the buggy whip from you, nicomp.

      Duchess, I have no clue. I have absolutely no idea what to do with all this stuff. Seems like such a waste, doesn't it? But you're a better man than I am Gunga Din, if you have the answer!

    • Mugwump profile image

      Mugwump 8 years ago

      What an interesting point and a unique perspective on a problem we all realize. While I am not as concerned about the balance sheet as I am the landfill (net revenue seems to account for this as the cost will be reflected); it does seem that there should be some responsible way to deal with these items. Many contain very harmful materials such as mercury, lead, etc.

    • nicomp profile image

      nicomp really 8 years ago from Ohio, USA

      Great concept. What happened to all those people who lost their jobs when buggy whips were no longer needed? Corded phones? Wagon wheels?

    • profile image

      Duchess OBlunt 8 years ago

      What an interesting fact Paradise7. Who knew? Now I will be racking my brain to come up with solutions to a problem I most likely helped contribute to....that's a tough one so early in the morning....I'll let it simmer and work it's way through the grey matter.

      I'd be interested in hearing if you have any ideas on what to do with all that "stuff"?

    • Veronica Allen profile image

      Veronica Allen 8 years ago from Georgia

      I came back to reread you hub. It's amazing how much money is going to waste! That money could be used for something so much more important. However, you have a point, what effort it would take to recycle all of this. But I'm sure if they put their minds to it, it can be done.

    • profile image

      lynnechandler 8 years ago

      Wow, this was interesting. It makes me wonder if all this stuff wasn't sitting in some warehouse somewhere and wasn't being kept up via the company for storage, how would that impact the price of some things now. I mean the storage fees have to be passed on somehow if they aren't writing it off.

    • Catherine R profile image

      Catherine R 8 years ago from Melbourne, Australia

      I had never given any consideration to the financial worth of all the stuff so this was interesting. But on a more positive note - in some ways we are moving towards a more 'stuffless' society. I know I have less stuff in my home - no need for shelves full of records or CDs - it's all on the ipod and when I want to buy new music it comes straight from itunes - no hard copy. No need for boxes full of photos and endless albums gathering dust - it's all on the computer. I know my dad even downloads all his books onto one of those little electronic book things. And our electricity and phone bills etc are all emailed to us so far less paper floating around. Of course my ipod is one of the old ones and my computer will soon need replacing - so what am I talking about! I can't get my head around it! Maybe the stuff of the future will just be smaller stuff...

    • Paradise7 profile image

      Paradise7 8 years ago from Upstate New York

      There. I did a quick little edit. I hope it's better. You know what's funny? I started thinking of all this from a fellow hubber. She talked about the electronic stuff in her basement. And I started to wonder, and to remember, too, all the stuff that you don't see anymore...

    • Paradise7 profile image

      Paradise7 8 years ago from Upstate New York

      Thanks for all the comments. I don't think I got the point across-I don't think I did a good enough job writing this, judging by the comments. The money thing didn't strike anybody. Maybe nobody has that background-money and financial management.

      It's anywhere between 100 billion and 1 trillion dollars going to waste. And the markets are inflated by that amount, both book and market.

      And, should all this STUFF ever be disposed of, can you imagine the recycling problem? Yikes. Yikes again.

    • Veronica Allen profile image

      Veronica Allen 8 years ago from Georgia

      Wow! I often wondered where all that stuff went myself! This was truly eyeopening.

    • sabrebIade profile image

      sabrebIade 8 years ago from Pennsylvania

      I pulled out an old LP one day and one of the kids said " big of a player did that go into?"

      I had to explain that LPs weren't played like CDs.


    • dohn121 profile image

      dohn121 8 years ago from Hudson Valley, New York

      A few months ago, I spent the better part of a half-hour explaining to my 6-year old niece what a audio cassette was, including what auto-reverse and dolby was as well...I'll never get that half-hour back from my life :(

      I remember "all of this stuff," Paradise7 and remember too VCRs, especially the top-loading ones! The list goes on. I didn't know that businesses can write these museum pieces off still. Way to find a loophole! Thanks.

    • creativeone59 profile image

      benny Faye Douglass 8 years ago from Gold Canyon, Arizona

      Thank you for sharing all that stuff hub. Godspeed. creativeone59

    • Laura du Toit profile image

      Laura du Toit 8 years ago from South Africa

      Good thought. Probably be demolished with the buildings that house them one day.

      Love the photo's.