When it comes to technology, we are living in amazing times. We have practically instant communication with people all over the globe, anyone can record anything with a device in their pocket and play it back later, we have a wealth of high tech entertainment options, transportation is a breeze compared to the days of horses, and companies are now looking toward increasingly complex nanotechnology. However, the truth is that we may soon be reaching the end of our amazing technological age, before it could really even get started. The environment is getting worse, the migrant crisis is a problem all over the world, and the way we produce much of our advanced technology is simply unsustainable. Before long, we may end up taking several drastic steps backward.
10. We Are Running Out Of A Lot Of Important Metals For Making Smartphones
Smartphones were, in the early 2000s, a novelty that most people didn’t have and were just starting to explode on the scene. The battle between Apple and Android had reached a fevered pitch, and everyone had an opinion on the matter. At the time, it was considered the most amazing thing ever and people were enamored with it. It was at least one sci-fi dream finally fulfilled, a PDA combined with a phone that could do everything you needed, fit in your pocket, and even act as an entertainment device.
The world was in love, and our relationship with smartphones has been going strong ever since. However, we have become a bit possessive, and a bit obsessive with our love, and our desire to constantly upgrade to new and better phones, is starting to take a toll on the environment. Now, this isn’t something about mining destroying the Earth, but rather the problem is that many of the more advanced bits of your device, require rare metals like Chromium, Tungsten, Molybdenum, Gallium, Selenium and others that are generally only available to be mined as byproducts. According to a study by Yale scientists, led by a Professor Thomas Graedel of their industrial ecology division, we are simply running out of these metals, and there really aren’t any good alternatives to do what they do.
At this point, the only real solution is recycling, but the problem is that the industry has dug itself into a hole on that account. Nearly all the rarer metals we are talking about are used in tiny amounts in already tiny devices, and the devices are not built with the idea in mind of removing those tiny bits for recycling. Before long, smartphones may start becoming more primitive, unless someone can make an incredible invention that quickly and efficiently strips away all of the rare metals from an old smartphone, and automates the process without any serious environmental impact.
9. Technology Is Becoming Increasingly Complex And Increasingly Layered
Technology has advanced at an absolutely stunning pace in an incredibly short time, compared to how long it took humanity to get where they were previously. It wasn’t long ago that Edison and Tesla were stunning everyone at the World’s Fair and now, we have worldwide internet access, smartphones in everyone’s pockets, and companies racing to make the first, fully functioning self-driving car. However, we may be backing ourselves into a corner from which it will be very hard to get out. The problem is that a lot of technology is now so complex that it requires other advanced technology to make it, and that technology has the same problem, like an increasingly problematic Russian nesting doll — until you reach the end and find one single engineer left who only understands one tiny piece of the puzzle.
As we start to explore nanotechnology, this problem only increases. The complexity requires increasingly complex machines, to make increasingly complex machines, and our house of cards becomes increasingly fragile. If anything were to majorly disrupt the system, such as natural disasters or global unrest, it could take decades, if ever, to get the system back to where it was before. The reason is because many of our technologies simply cannot be built by scratch, they take layers of complex machines that must first be designed and built, to even get to that level in the first place — in the end, this could put us in a very tricky position.
8. The Amount Of People Who Can Make An Entire Piece Of Technology Is Dwindling
Back in the day, you had watchmakers, blacksmiths, tailors, bakers and other tradesmen making up the world. People tended to specialize, they could do one thing very well, and they could do it comprehensively on their own. It actually paid off to specialize, and the world functioned just fine, with people often bartering their skills as needed, instead of just straight up trading money. However, today, people who specialize in one standalone profession, especially in the field of anything where something is made or designed, are dwindling greatly.
Now, there are people who are engineers, or work as designers at companies, but these people are only working on a small piece of a puzzle, and don’t have the authority, or the capability and resources to do one thing on their own. The reason you will never see a single person credited as the inventor on many modern technologies, is because it usually takes a team of hundreds of people these days, most of which only understand a very small part of the entire whole of what is going on.
This could be a serious problem in any kind of global disruption, or disruption of infrastructure and stored knowledge. Without all of our stored data, and all our our current infrastructure, we could assemble huge teams of people, try to fill gaps in knowledge, and still take decades, if ever, to rebuild and relearn how to make things like smartphones. Our technology can simply no longer be constructed by a single hand, like in the days when people did things like operate their own ham radios.
7. Some Arts Are Already Mostly Lost To Time And Could Be Lost Entirely
There are some old analog arts that are slowly vanishing from the face of the earth, and this could be to our great detriment later. One of the most important ones is that of the art of making and repairing analog watches. Digital watches seem like a pretty great idea, but it hasn’t really made life particularly better for anyone, to be able to read time a little bit faster. In fact, it has increased our dependence on electronics, and likely on the other metals that we are slowly running out of. At best, it is another unneeded convenience of the modern age that makes us feel like we are more advanced, when really we aren’t doing anything more than we were before.
Regardless, due to peoples’ desire to shave a fraction of a second off their busy schedule by removing the need to read a proper watch, the art is slowly dying from the face of the earth. This could be very unfortunate, as if the world faces natural disasters and other calamities, and does face resource crises, we are likely going to find ourselves in need of analog devices once more. At that point, losing the knowledge of watchmaking, which was built up over centuries, and is a very precise and complex art, would be a big blow to humanity. It may not sound as important as it is, as it is something we take for granted every day, but being able to keep people mostly in sync in terms of time made the world move and expand, and we all would have had no chance at such feats without that ability.
6. Data Is Stored In Ways That May One Day Be Entirely Irretrievable
One of the greatest losses in history, still grieved by many today, was the loss of the Library of Alexandria. This event still resonates with many people, who are not only saddened by the loss, but fear the possibility that one day, all or most of the knowledge we have worked so hard to build up could be destroyed and we could lose an incredible amount of our progress. Books and scrolls, stone tablets and other ways knowledge has passed down through the ages, all can fairly easily degrade, and much knowledge has been lost permanently for that reason. However, all of those bits of knowledge were, once we found, something we could start attempting to translate straight aways.
Much of the world’s knowledge is now stored in some digital format or another. Not only can these formats also degrade over a long time like any storage method, the bigger worry is accessing them at all. If some kind of natural disaster were to render us incapable of producing more computers, for whatever reason, we could lose the ability to access all the flash storage, and servers and other physical, hard media that now contain the bulk of the worlds knowledge. Ironically, to make matters worse, all the knowledge and steps needed to make computers or devices that could access the information stored, would be on all the flash drives, servers and other devices that we now don’t have the technology to properly access.
5. If The Environment Continues To Worsen, A Lot Of Infrastructure Will Be Destroyed
The environment has gotten a lot worse recently. Whether you believe this was caused by irresponsible actions by human beings, a part of a natural cycle, or some combination of the two, at this point it is pretty hard to ignore that the weather is getting worse. Hurricane seasons especially have been horrific, and have already knocked out a lot of power infrastructure. Now, some places are able to get it back quickly, but for others it is more of a challenge. Puerto Rico was in blackout for months after the last hurricane hit them, and is only just starting to get their power back on truly solid footing, with hurricane season coming right back up to rear its ugly head again.
For places that are near an island, or a coast, they may soon find themselves dealing with this issue year after year, and finding it difficult to maintain advanced technology on any regular basis. Constantly repairing electrical infrastructure may become too expensive, and those who decide to stay on islands, or areas too near the coastlines, may be forced to come up with other solutions for taking care of their daily needs, or provide themselves with their own primitive solar power. As the environment worsens all around the globe, self contained power systems may become much more popular, and much more important, if you want to maintain some semblance of the trappings of “modern” civilization. It is much easier when extreme weather keeps hitting your region, to keep your own self-contained, primitive power system than rely on a widespread network serving countless people that can easily be disrupted.
4. We May Have To Rediscover More “Primitive” Technologies From The Recent Past
Unfortunately, the climate is rapidly worsening, and whether the cause is entirely natural or not, resources are becoming a greater problem, and there is already a full blown migrant crisis all over the globe. As the climate continues to threaten us all, resources become more restricted, and we have to focus our energy more on survival, we may have to scale back entirely from devices like smartphones, and rediscover technology of the past. The telegraph, as well as analog watches, would once again be extremely important.
Radio would be way more important, and likely would be the primary means of home entertainment. Ham radio enthusiasts and people just looking to communicate could use the devices to contact each other from a distance, and make plans or share and communicate information in an emergency. Now, in terms of transportation, it is unlikely we would start to use horses again. Many post-apocalyptic movies depict people using horses, but it is impractical. In our modern age we have bicycles, and that’s an analog technology we could easily reproduce if needed; there are also countless old bikes and bike parts that could be repurposed. Animals are costly, especially when resources are scarce, but bikes require little to no maintenance and, especially multi-gear bikes, can take you a long distance rather quickly with very little effort.
3. Global Trade Could Be Very Easily And Very Quickly Disrupted By Environmental Disaster
As of right now, the countries of the world are already at one of the most divided places they have been since the World Wars. In fact, in some ways it may be even worse. Many allies are even showing great tension with each other, and global cooperation is low. The United States has backed out of several international agreements, the United Kingdom is leaving the European Union, and there is little comity currently between the EU and the current United States leadership. With the migrant crisis ongoing around the globe and the environment worsening, many countries are becoming increasingly insular and forgetting their once proud commitment to helping others in need. Many simply feel too taxed already by the ongoing crisis
To make matters worse, the world is already becoming embroiled in a trade war which is somehow even affecting our own allies, and is already showing the beginnings of deep disruptions in global trade stability. If such a trade war is protracted, along with the climate wiping out various crops or industries one year or another, an era of unprecedented cooperation could come to a halt far faster than you might expect. The increasingly worsening weather also makes it harder for quick and speedy shipping of any goods, which only makes the situation more of a quagmire. Right now, countries around the globe are looking at things from more of a “every man for himself perspective,” which is the perfect way to quickly put an end to international cooperation.
2. Satellite Damage Could Further Weaken Our Ability To Communicate And Learn
Today, we rely on satellites for an incredible amount of our communications infrastructure, and this may put us in a very dangerous position. While it does allow us to have global positioning for navigating our cars — or airplanes — and it allows for easy communication around the globe, it is a very fragile technology. Back in 1978, a scientist who worked for NASA named Donald J. Kessler came up with a theory sometimes called the Kessler Syndrome, and sometimes the Kessler Effect.
The theory is that as we continually put more and more satellites and other objects in space, and their orbits decay, they will start to smack into each other. As they do, they will break up into smaller pieces, and then do the same thing again, and so on. These pieces will be incredibly damaging to anything they hit even at small size, and if enough of a chain reaction were to start, we could lose a huge amount of our satellite infrastructure in a relatively short span of time.
If this were to happen, we could lose an incredible amount of global communication overnight, and we may need to start learning to read directions and street signs properly again. To make matters worse, while there is a backup to communicate with the internet across the pond, it involves huge cables under the ocean. If sabotage of some kind were to occur, or an environmental disaster, we could find ourselves completely cut off from other countries around the world. If, at the time we lacked the technology to properly repair it, or bad weather prevented it due to the worsening climate, we could find ourselves unable to communicate with the rest of the world in any kind of timely manner, just like the olden days.
1. People Could Be More Concerned With Resources In The Near Future Than Technology
As we mentioned, the world is already entering into an ugly trade war that has no real end in sight, and could cause incredible damage to countless lives and businesses before it is over. This trade war is partly a result of the ongoing crisis around the world, due to the climate changing, resource issues, and people trying to migrate to a better part of the world. In a way, these people are all humans and we all sort of belong here on this earth. Many of these countries are actually not cruelly rejecting these immigrants anyway, and have put together systems to help migrants, but simply feel they are struggling to keep helping new people who flood to their borders.
As countries become increasingly focused on simply staying afloat, and taking care of those who they do feel they can afford to allow into their borders, they will be less and less focused on the most luxurious and fancy technology. Having something displayed on the shiniest screen is not the most important detail in the world when you are worrying about where your next meal will come from, or if the economy and climate around you will remain stable. The truth is that our current end of technological expansion may be at an end soon one way or another. Even if we have the capability to continue, our focus may soon be going in a different direction, and we will find innovation of the high tech variety stalled, at the very least.