Dvorak: Help Me Deal With Mounds of Recently Useful Tech Junk

There was an interesting article recently by anthropologist Jeanne Arnold studying American lifestyles and telling how middle-class people, in particular, are accumulating so much junk that clutter is now thematic in their lives.

I suffer from this simply because there are not enough hours in the day to sort through and discard all the crap that piles up.

I agree with the notion that there is a place for everything and everything has its place, and if you just put stuff away in its place, then all would be well.

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But who knows where half this stuff belongs? I mean, what is the right place for a USB thumb drive?

There are only so many possibilities for the "right place," and after a while you run out of places.

I blame the technology boom for this problem.

Let me take a quick look at the accumulation surrounding me now and figure out the right place for a microphone, USB cables, wireless mouse, external hard drive that needs fixing, a copy of InDesign, miscellaneous empty binders, a Pets.com sock puppet, reading glasses, pens, gaffer's tape, vague and generic power supplies, chopsticks, an extra mouse pad, slides that need scanning, flash memory cards, various old manuals, a dozen different types of paper for the printer, a box of SCSI cables, a spindle of blank DVD-R discs, plastic things that go who knows where, a stack of old 3.5-inch floppy disks, more cables whose use is unknown and cardboard boxes that contain the remains of various drawers that were dumped into them.

You get the idea.

One of the problems with all this is the relatively worthless nature of the accumulation. If any of this stuff was valuable, you might be more inclined to document what to do with it.

For example, I seldom lose a laptop among the junk. The laptop is valuable. I know where it is.

Now, none of the gear and accessories are cheap to buy, but they become worthless so fast that it's astonishing.

I have this case of old thick SCSI-I cables that only some nutball hobbyist would ever find a use for. It must be $1,000 worth of cables that are now worth nothing.

I've always been fascinated by the fact that we are experiencing an industry that has to crank out new stuff and get rid of the old stuff so fast that it piles up everywhere.

A two-year-old computer is worth less and less by the day. Nothing appreciates in value. If something actually holds its value for more than a few months, we are all astonished.

I've always hoped that some sort of economic guru would study this sort of business. It's similar to a hyperinflation economy where money becomes less and less valuable by the minute.

In this case it's the products that are going through deflation, largely because of Moore's Law.

Some might want to call it depreciation, and the automobile industry is where it all started. But if the technology involves semiconductors, it's hyper-depreciation.

So instead of buying an item and then using it forever, like you might with a fine kitchen knife or a quality shotgun, you have to swap out the old and replace it with the new on an ongoing basis. Thus an accumulation of old stuff begins.

Since we are programmed as little kids not to waste things, and since the memory of the expense of that old and now useless portable ZIP drive still lingers, we keep the drive, although it will never run again.

And of course there is the "well, I might just need it someday" excuse, because you do recall something or other was once backed up on a ZIP disk.

Yes, that's the ticket — you may need to read something with that old drive someday.

The stuff belongs in the scrap heap, but we cannot force ourselves to toss it. And it builds and it builds.

I have an entire room full of stuff like this. It's embarrassing.

What can be done about it? We have to change our basic instinct, our nature. And we need to fill the trash heaps — not our houses — until someone notices the problem and a national crisis is declared.

Until then I'll just wade through the crap and grumble. No wonder I'm always in a surly mood!

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