SO YOU’RE on the way home from work and your Android phone pings and your shopping list has just been updated by your fridge. You pop into Woolies and pick up what’s needed and as you get a 100 metres from your front gate you SMS your house, the locks pop, your gate swings open, the lights come on, the music starts, the air conditioning clicks in and the ice machine pops some cubes out the chute ready for your single malt.
You’re having a dinner party that evening, and the touch screen on your Samsung T9000, 900-litre four- door fridge freezer has already suggested a few menus based on the contents of your fridge, which it has scanned. Just before the guests arrive, your phone app streams the music for the evening via your second fridge, the new Whirlpool.
Your newish baby is a bit restless, and is still learning how not to poo and pee at random, so while you’re preparing dinner, you pop her and her iPad on to her digital iPotty so she can play on the iPad while she sits and learns how to poo.
Your guests have two teenagers, and they can never agree on anything, so you pop them into the TV room with their own pairs of individualised 3D glasses so they can watch two different 3D movies on the same, wafer thin 55 inch TV screen, again from Samsung (it will only set you back about R100 000).
Sitting down to dinner, the talk turns to diet, and how hard it is to watch the calories. Never fear, you say, and whip out a Hapilabs fork for each guest. The Hapilabs has a built- in sensor so if it senses you’re shovelling down the food too fast, and not chewing it enough, it starts vibrating as a warning to slow down.
One of your guests laments the fact that in this latest hot spell we’ve been having, her pot plants died because she forgot to feed them. Aha! you say, and produce the Parrot Flower Power which contains a database of 6 000 plants. You stick it in your pot plant and it measures the sunlight, humidity and temperature, and then sends all this info wirelessly to your cellphone, including what fertiliser is needed.
The party’s getting merry now, everyone’s ticking a bit, so you whip out the camera to record the event for posterity. Wow, says one of your guests, is that an old Pentax Spotmatic film camera? No, you say, isn’t this just so cool, they’re now making smart digital cameras that look just like old film cameras. How retro is that? And, you add, not only that, but this gidget on the camera, and this app on my phone means I can just wirelessly send pics straight to my phone and onto Facebook. Cool!
All of the above are real. They are some of the thousands of new tech toys that were showcased at last week’s International Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas.
And it is not cool. It is terrifying. There is this constant feeding frenzy when it comes to new phones, new apps, new gadgets, new computers, new gizmos. It is terrifying because those gizmos are speeding up the destruction of our planet, and are indirectly responsible for the deaths of millions of people in Africa.
I have written about this before, but it is worth repeating. Without the magical metallic ore, Columbite-tantalite, coltan for short and comprising niobium and tantalum, many electronic devices, and especially mobile phones, would not be able to operate at anything like their current levels of efficiency. Coltan is key to the production of pinhead capacitors which have unique properties for the regulation and storage of electrical charges, key to mobile telephony. And the other mineral is cassiterite, a mineral used in the production of tin, which is a major component of mobile phone and computer circuit boards.
Of the 13 major cassiterite mines in the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo, 12 are controlled by rebel militias or the Congolese Army. When it comes to coltan, 80 percent of the world’s known reserves are in the DRC, mostly in areas controlled by militias. Rwanda, Burundi and Uganda, all of whom back different militias, are major exporters of coltan.
It is estimated that close to six million civilians have already died in the civil war in the DRC, and over half a million women and girls have been raped.
The main area of coltan mining includes the Kahuzi-Biega National Park, one of the last strongholds of the eastern lowland gorillas, whose numbers in the park have been cut by more than half to around 125 as a result of forest clearance for mining, and the bush meat trade.
All that sexy new technology is steeped in blood.