Tech Addiction: What If…The Gadgets Went Away?

Every good story contains a little nudge to the imagination. When you read a novel, you ask the author to transport you to a world you hadn’t envisioned, a place you’ve never seen, a time in the past you’ve never experienced.

Sometimes that story gives you the shivers, making you appreciate just what you have in the here and now. Perhaps a loving family instead of a crazed murderer, or a vibrant community instead of a poverty-stricken neighborhood.

Perhaps today’s 21st century lifestyle with addictive gadgets making your life easier, cheaper, safer, and more mobile, not one from 100 years ago.

What if…your safe life today disappeared at the political whim of another country’s leader? Not from bombs going off or from a declaration of war. Not because we’re unaware of this potential risk to our national and economic security. But because, even with years of “connecting the dots”, our bureaucracy in Washington D.C. and the myopic hubris of Silicon Valley engineers caught us flat-footed and unable to defend ourselves.

Few people realize just how much we rely on another country for manufacturing all those handy devices that make our lives so easy, our air and water so clean, and our military advanced. I’m referring to rare earth metals mined, processed and “Made in China” into the technology we use every day.

Tiny microscopic elements, buried on and in the crust of the earth, give us those modern miracles. In addition, these rare earth metals are a critical component for future green technology solutions. Expert David S. Abraham likens them to the tiny granules of yeast necessary for any pizza. No yeast, no dough…no pizza.

Not being a scientist, I won’t go into details, except to bow down to those with the brilliance to identify and manipulate these elements into compounds and alloys that make tiny batteries and huge magnets work. They bring us solar panels and the brilliant crimson red on the iPhone. And supply our military force with their promised high-tech weapons to keep them—and us—safe.

Now we learn the “What if…?” is indeed reality, making the story of my upcoming novel, Rare Mettle, too scarily close to the truth.

According to the February 11, 2016 report from the U.S. General Accounting Office (whose role is “to provide Congress with timely information that is objective, fact-based, nonpartisan, non-ideological, fair, and balanced”):

“DOD [Department of Defense] has taken actions without knowing the extent of the underlying risks that the unavailability of rare earths would have on its weapon systems specifically and national defense generally.”

What? Say that again?

The Pentagon isn’t fully aware that China monopolizes the supply of rare earth-based components going into our weapon systems? Or do they simply ignore their basic responsibility to ensure our troops have the weapons they need? In other words, did they ignore that America’s national security is at risk?

In today’s world of global trade and reliance on key products manufactured in China and shipped to our shores daily, ask yourself what would happen if one day China decided it really didn’t like our stance on their political or military ambitions. We can hope they would negotiate to resolve the disagreement.

But what if…they don’t?

No rare earth-based components coming from China means no snazzy iPhones, solar panels, electric car batteries, magnets, or advanced weaponry.

Our economy increasingly relies on the most modern, mobile technology—to communicate, to process payments, to travel. So the concept of warfare in terms of bombs and troops, while all too real in the Middle East now, is antiquated when we think about China.

All they have to do is stop exporting the products they make under the claim that their own population needs their output. Not you. Not me. Not the rest of the world.

And that’s when the reality of any technology addiction hits home. Whether it’s talking or texting, energy reliance or night vision goggles, our now necessary gadgets could disappear in a matter of months as we deplete our inventory.

Hmm, you may just have to go back to reading printed books. And perhaps you can connect those dots, even if the Pentagon doesn’t see fit to warn you.

(This article originally appeared on Balcony 7 Media & Publishing’s

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