Ah, Technology! The wonder that fuels the modern world, from the laptop we use to work from home to the smartphone which we can’t seem to get rid of. Everything from the daily train schedule to the stock market runs on modern technology. It is the caffeine of the modern world, the wheel of the new age. We can’t imagine how the world would have turned out if Alexander Graham Bell hadn’t invented the telephone or if Apple hadn’t invented the modern smartphone.
But behind this bright aura lies a deep, dark shadow. Technology, mainly electronic devices, have caused much harm despite its various benefits. Rare earth metals, also called the “vitamin” of the modern world, are used heavily in modern technology. The screen of the device can contain Yttrium (Y), Lanthanum (La), Terbium (Tb), Praseodymium (Pr), etc while the electronic parts like transistors can contain Terbium (Tb), Praseodymium (Pr), Dysprosium (Dy), Gadolinium (Gd), Neodymium (Nd) among others. The first problem with this arises from the fact that China currently dominates over these minerals, producing 90% of the global supply and holding 35% of the global reserves. This gives them a complete monopoly over these essential metals, and thus a monopoly over global technology. In the event of a conflict, they can just choose to cut of the supply of these metals to the country in question, thus strangling its tech economy. This is not at all hypothetical as China threatened to do just that when the United States imposed tariffs on 200 billion dollars' worth of Chinese products during the US-China “trade war”.
Another problem that arises from our dependence on rare earth metals is that the concentration and refining of them is a very challenging, time-consuming and expensive process. Unlike other elements, rare earth metals don’t bundle together in single-element lumps because they bond freely with other elements. In order to filter them, the mined material has to be dipped in acid over and over again, then dissolved several times. This process has to be modified for each new mining site to cater to the specific soil impurities present. This process is also very wasteful. We have to refine 16 tonnes of natural rock to produce one kilogram of Cerium, 150 tonnes per kg of Gadolinium and 250 tonnes per kg of Lutetium. Scientists have highlighted that the only way to reduce our overdependence on rare earth metals is to use our electronic devices for longer periods of time, thereby reducing the amount of rare earth metals needed.
In addition to this, a major problem facing the tech world is the relation between social media and mental health. Numerous studies have linked over use of social media sites with depression and low self-esteem. One of the reasons why this may be true is the fact that communication via social media may lead to the warped perceptions about the physical traits and personality of other users. A study carried out on 425 students at Utah university concluded that Facebook use is linked to the pupil's perception that other users are happier. This does not necessarily result in depression. However, in individuals who already have certain depressive thoughts, this may further negatively impact mental health. Furthermore, social media companies deliberately make their sites more addictive for advertisement revenues, which, when coupled with its depressive traits, can prove to be a deadly combo for one’s mental health. An example of this addictiveness is the fact that social media sides deliberately design the reloading feature like the handle of a slot machine (we have to pull from the top to the bottom). We have to remember that their real customers are the advertisers (their source of revenue) and we are the actual products.
These are just a few of the challenges that he tech world will have to face over the coming time. For the safety and development of the world, they need to ensure that they find a safe and effective way to overcome these hurdles and help the world progress!