Are Tech Gadgets the Collectibles of the Future?

A question I often think about is what objects from the present will become collectibles in the future. In some ways it’s simply investment speculation, because if I could somehow know what will be valuable a few decades from now, I could start buying it cheap and hoarding it away. But it’s also an interesting question because it gets to what people value and don’t value, and how that can change over time. Collectibles are usually things people loved at one point, were forgotten for a long period of time, and then people came back to those things and realized the significance in their lives. Things like comic books, baseball cards, toys, and cars have all become valuable collectibles over the years, even though they initially were not seen that way.

So what current objects will one day become collectibles? Looking around at all the physical objects people possess today, one that stands out to me is our tech gadgets. Things like our computers, smart phones, and other digital technology. There are a number of reasons they stand out over other candidates, but to me it comes down to two main aspects that make something collectible.

First, most things that become collectible were never initially seen as being collectible, but were used for a purpose. Thus, toys and comic books were just things to occupy kids’ time and cars were meant to drive. Because they weren’t seen as collectible, people used them up and mostly threw them away. Thus, they have become rare and hard to find in good condition.

Second, a collectible usually has some nostalgic value, and carries some type of meaning in people’s lives. While anything might be old and rare, it only becomes valuable later on if there are people out there that have some connection to it and want to own it. So while a childhood toy someone spent hours on end playing with will be collectible, a toaster will probably not, because people don’t have the same connection to it.

If you apply those two aspects to tech gadgets, they line up perfectly. They meet the first test in that they usually are not seen by most as collectible, but are used for specific purposes. You don’t buy an iPhone as an investment, you buy it to use as an iPhone. Thus, people use up their technology and many times simply dispose of it.

They also meet the second test, in that they play such big roles in all our lives, that we most certainly will look back at them with nostalgia. We are seeing the first generations that lived their entire lives with computers and remember using vintage computers from past decades. Those people will get older, get more money, remember the days using this technology, and most likely will want to go back and relive those experiences by buying the actual things they used to own.

Another wrinkle in my analysis is the geek factor. What group of people are some of the biggest collectors… geeks. Who uses the most tech gadgets… geeks. It seems like a winning combination. Decades down the road geeks will look back at all the technology they loved when they were younger and start collecting anything they can find. Because most of it will have been used up and thrown out, what’s left will be rare and collectible. I can’t see any reason a mint condition first generation iPhone, with original packaging, wouldn’t be worth at least a few thousand dollars in a decade or two.

I think we are already starting to see hints of people collecting old technology. A rare functioning Apple I computer sold for $375,000 last year, and there are growing number of vintage computer collectors out there. Yet, it’s still in its infant stages, and most people will you an old computer at a garage sale for $5 and think nothing of it. Eventually people will wise up and realize these old computers and smart phones might actually be valuable, and the market for them will quickly grow. It might takes decades, but if I were to put my money on any type of physical object becoming collectible in the future, tech gadgets would be the one.

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