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The Important Lesson of Staples’ Fall is Technology Destruction

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NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- Technology is creative destruction in action.

Take Staples . In the 1990s, the stock was a highflier, a classic big-box store that was devouring technology retailers. That made sense, because office-supply stores were the first technology super-centers, offering adding machines, cash registers and typewriters a century ago, when those were new ideas.

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Staples' shares peaked again, near the end of the housing bubble in 2007, at more than $27, giving the company a valuation of more than $17.5 billion. It's now at $8.1 billion.

The shares got a pop on Tuesday to $12.63, after a Credit Suisse analyst speculated that the company might merge with rival Office Depot , which had swallowed OfficeMax.

Staples' stock was trading Wednesday morning at $12.86, up 1.9%. The shares have fallen 19% year to date, compared with a 3.4% gain for the Dow Jones Industrial Average .

Office Depot and Staples have been moving in tandem for some time , and Office Depot reiterated its earnings forecast Tuesday. It expects lower sales than last year.

Maybe Staples should have gone into 3-D printing, or services, and it has tried to expand into postal services against UPS and FedEx .

What matters to investors is that Staples is closing stores and warning of lower sales.

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My late father owned a TV repair shop. It helped raise me. He got out in 1973, and when I returned to town five years later, the shop was gone, a victim of "solid-state" electronics that made such products cheaper to scrap than fix. The whole TV business is dead now that flat screens have replaced picture tubes. I wonder why thieves bother to steal them.

Most of my life since has been spent in the print media, but that, too, has been undermined by the rise of the Web. A big reason that unemployment has remained high is that jobs are gone, permanently, and new ones have not evolved to take their place.

Staples isn't in trouble because Walmart or Amazon do what Staples does better. We don't fax anymore. We seldom print, and PCs and servers are being replaced by tablets and the cloud. The name says it all, Staples. My kids seldom use them, and their kids won't know what they are.

A Staples representative wasn't immediately available for comment.

As an investor, you have to be on the lookout for markets that technology is destroying and then get out as soon as you can. I wouldn't want to be an office developer these days, because middle management is disappearing. Office buildings today are software factories, sales rooms for lawyers or medical clinics. Maybe trading rooms.