A wise man once told me that entropy is inevitable, a feat that is currently happening, and will only pick up pace. The truth is around us, televisions are getting smaller, phones are getting smaller, microchips are getting smaller…everything man-made technology-wise is getting smaller. This is a simple concept to grasp, for it is to increase efficiency and customer satisfaction, but the issues it throws up are massive (pardon the pun).
We all love the latest smartphones, ones that are gradually getting thinner and lighter, and ones that are record-breaking in their size and record-breaking in their capabilities. To succeed with such a task creates a lot more energy than you think. The whole idea behind ‘entropy’ and thermodynamics is that to create something smaller, you must use more. This is where the issue lies; what happens when all our resources are gone? Can we rely upon solar energy to solve all the electrical issues in the world? No. The world’s largest solar panel farm only produces 0.001% of the world’s largest nuclear energy plant. It would take just under one hundred billion Waldpolenz Solar Parks to produce the same energy as only one Darlington Power Station. The capability just isn’t available at the moment. Click here for figures above.
This is where we must either A) rethink our idea towards entropy, and focus on larger designs that still produce as well, but are just more energy efficient or B) find a new alternate energy source, one that will provide our energy-needs for the future. There will be a point in time when energy plants are replaced with other sources; skyscrapers of solar panels, continents of wind turbines, or mass hydroelectric plants out at sea. Either way, our energy use is leading to the end of fossil fuel faster than we care to realise.
Now, I am no environmentalist, nor do I care much about the effects of global warming, but others do. To create the smallest microchip available, the energy used is the equivalent of almost 100x its size. To create a smartphone, the energy required has now surpassed the equivalent of 900x its size. To put figuratively, if we could represent size as a Joule (J), then let a microchip be 10 J. It would take 1000 J to produce. If a phone is 100 J, then it would require 9000 J to produce. That is a high energy output to produce in comparison to the number of IPhones made in a year; 7.2 billion J would be produced in return of an input of 64,800,000,000 J. Note, these J figures are made up, but the scale of J Input : Output ratio is the same.
Now the ethical argument; why are we doing this? If the energy input is so high, why do we keep producing? It’s quite a complex theology behind the situation, but it comes down to our psychology, specifically our desire for better things. Typically, as we grow up, things have gotten better around us; cars are faster and smaller, televisions are thinner than ever, biomedical science is achieving wondrous feats and our phones are getting smaller. We are accustomed to change. We are also accustomed to trends; over time, phones have ONLY gotten smaller. Over time, cars have ONLY gotten faster. Over time, we have become greedier. Our dependence on entropy has sky-rocketed.
My view? I don’t care. It may seem pretentious of me to say, but I really don’t care for many reasons. Firstly, I encourage the search for better energy sources, ones that produce the same energy as nuclear power but are much cleaner. I welcome things become smaller, faster, and easier to use. I eagerly await the time when technology is as seamless and integrated as our own beings. Global warming is scientifically inevitable anyway, so rather than ‘preventing’ a speeding bullet, we should adapt. Who knows, perhaps the next smallest device could be a world changer and a life saver. I do not look down upon entropy, I endorse it and I live within it. Perhaps in the future we will be “back in black”, but for this generation, and for generations to come, the light has never shone brighter.
-Benjamin John Wareing