Earth – Element or State
The alchemist thought that everything in our universe was composed of four basic elements. Earth, water, air and fire. Actually, we could think that they were talking about some examples of the four states of matter which are observable in everyday life: solid, liquid, gas, and plasma. Did they see plasma, when they watched a burning tree? No, but yes, plasma has been observed by living things since creation of Mother Earth or Gaia during thunder storms in lightning. Today you see it all around because neon lights get their illumination from plasma inside them and many of us have plasma displays in our homes and offices. When you come to Finland don’t forget to look up into the night sky and you have a chance to see one of the most stunning plasma shows on earth: aurora borealis or northern lights.
IT and Rare Earth Elements
Todays’ information society is very dependent in something called rare earth elements (REE). First of the 17 rare elements, gadolinium, was found from Sweden only two hundred years ago and it got its name after a Finnish professor Johan Gadolin (1760–1852), to honor his investigation of rare earths.
Rare earth elements are actually not as rare as the name makes us think. There is as much cerium on earth as there is copper and we have two hundred times more thulium, which is the rarest of them all, than gold. The problem is that they are scattered in small amounts all over the ground. There are only few places where you can make money by mining them and 97 % of all production of REE in the world is happening in China! Some see this as one of the big threats in our world because China is growing fast and minor and minor part of their production is exported to the other countries. This will make their prices increase fast.
We need REE in almost all the modern IT devices: display, batteries, optical fibres, mobile phones and tablets, lasers, storage devices, etc. This means that we have to start finding those metals from somewhere else even with a higher cost.
Real and Virtual World
If we compare the real world to the virtual world, which is taking bigger and bigger share of our life, you would combine the two concepts earth and hardware. All concrete objects in each world are composed of them. As a start we got the mother earth as granted. After millions of years of evolution it created a species which was capable of leaving the physical limitations behind, but we still need a lot of hardware to be able to generate the virtual world around us. Without big data centers you would not have Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, LinkedIn or any of the other social media sites. Finland is actually hosting quite many data centers today – Google, Microsoft and Yandex are already here and some other big players are having plans to come later because of safe and stable environment.
Earth and Air
In everyday life we think that earth is the solid part of the world from which everything grows. Air is something almost inexistent although we need it to breathe. But from books of biology we know that the solid part of all trees is basically carbon and the plants take it from the air. Then they need some minerals from the earth but in very little amounts. A lot of water comes from the earth but it mainly goes through the growing organisms. Counterpart for water might be data communication but let’s have a deeper look into that later.