We are extracting Earth’s geological history to serve a split second of contemporary technological time, building devices like the Amazon Echo and the iPhone that are often designed to last for only a few years.
I’m driving through the desert valley on a summer afternoon to see the workings of this latest mining boom. I ask my phone to direct me to the perimeter of the lithium ponds, and it replies from its awkward perch on the dashboard, tethered by a white USB cable. Silver Peak, Nevada’s large, dry lake bed, was formed millions of years ago during the late Tertiary Period. It’s surrounded by crusted stratifications pushing up into ridgelines containing dark limestones, green quartzites, and gray and red slate.