Graham Hancock asserts that humanity is a “species with amnesia.” Precious gems and metals have been the cause of war, genocide, and environmental devastation for thousands of years.
Though it is easy to make the case that it is time to scrap our dependence on these materials, they do provide us with scientific solutions that go beyond beauty and aesthetic value.Is it the Shiny Object Theory or something else? What makes gold and silver so valuable?Click To Tweet
Old Habits Lead Us to a New Frontier
Humans don’t just love diamonds, gold, silver and other precious metals and stones because they are shiny.
The “Shiny Object Theory” can account for why these reflective surfaces catch our eye and why we instinctively turn to look at them. But, it does not account for the sustained, deliberate and even obsessive attention we give these materials or why this obsession is a learned human behavior passed down throughout generations.
The laws of economics tell us that something is only as valuable as what someone is willing to pay for it.
We give things meaning and value based on their utility to us personally. Though these precious materials have had value for eons, they have uses in tech and Industry that make them still valuable today in ways that go beyond their aesthetic appeal as jewelry and luxury building materials.
Diamonds And Data Storage
We have previously covered the role that diamonds play in tech features like data storage.
Because of their complex structure, researchers are now looking at diamonds as a way to possibly store information forever. Unlike typical USBs and flash drives, information can be embedded within a diamond’s subtle imperfections, using lasers, making an unbreakable, though expensive, resource for storage in the future.
A diamond can store as much as 100 DVDs, and although tech is continuing to move beyond the need for physical storage capabilities because of the unlimited amount of storage that is available in cloud computing, diamond, and artificial diamonds could be a resource for permanent storage as a second, eternal and external hard drive.
Gold: From Your Pocket to Outer Space
Part of the allure of gold is because of its historical significance as a status symbol and universal currency.
In the recent podcast, S-Town, we saw how one person was willing to risk his life for the antiquated process of fire gilding.
Using chemical process with mercury and gold to create beautiful gold-plated timepieces, clockmakers are known to have experienced life damaging health problems, all in the pursuit of turning surfaces into shiny golden memorials to time.
When used in industrial markets, gold plays an important role in the production of electronic devices. Every smartphone has about 50 cents worth of gold in it, which is used as a way to stop corrosion of circuits.
Gold meets conduction requirements for high-speed processes better than any other material and is a key component in manufacturing computers.
“Edge connectors used to mount microprocessor and memory chips onto the motherboard and the plug-and-socket connectors used to attach cables all contain gold,” according to Geology.com, which is then “electroplated onto other metals and alloyed with small amounts of nickel or cobalt to increase durability.”
In aerospace, too, gold plays an important role.
Besides the iconic gold visors on astronaut’s helmets, gold is a heavily used component in spacecraft circuitry. This makes sense as it is the best and most reliable conductor that can be used in outer space.
It’s also used as a lubricant between mechanical parts of conventional spacecraft, as it is a flexible metal alternative to any liquid chemicals which would deteriorate immediately when exposed to the vacuum of outer space.
Silver Lined Clouds And Electronics
Because it is cheaper than gold and also a great conductor, silver is used in all electronics and circuitry.
Even our tried and true battery is getting a stylish and necessary revamp, with silver-oxide batteries beginning to phase out Li-ion batteries because of their high power to weight ratios.
Silver-oxide is also a safer option than lithium-based batteries and is becoming a more common feature of personal handheld electronics as health and safety standards become more regulated across the world.
Silver iodine is the most popular substance for the controversial practice of cloud seeding, which has not yet been proven a successful method of terraforming, though it does have the possibility to redefine our relationship to the weather.
However, as we’ve discussed before, even if one molecule of silver iodine caused 1000 molecules of rain to fall, you’d still need about 1000 tons of silver to get the job done. That’s 1 million dollars worth of silver. Though it may technically work, it might not work well enough to warrant the cost.
Our collective consumption and profit driven society has taken the planet to new environmental and societal extremes, yet we continue to place value on what, to the uninitiated, are seemingly worthless rocks and minerals from the earth, like gold, diamond, and silver.
Though it’s possible that we are trapped by our historical tendency toward extractive wealth and over-consumption, there is a case for the value of these precious materials as important aspects of Industry 4.0.