Continuing with my recent theme of getting readers to recognize more “I didn’t think of that” moments as they relate to Peak Oil (while avoiding any kind of structured or overly-detailed approach that might discourage readers from continuing on), today I’d like to discuss the ubiquitous laptop/personal computer.

These almost-mandatory-for-our-lifestyles products are in no small measure made out polycarbonates and synthetic plastics—petrochemicals … oil. Microchips and housings and keyboards and many of the assorted other elementary components essential to the manufacturing of one of our greatest inventions do not exist without fossil fuels.

How many hours a day do you use this marvel of ingenuity and vision and technology? How many different uses and applications do you employ in the normal course of your day without thinking even once about your computer’s ready availability and its relative affordability? Turning on our computers at home and/or at work has become as commonplace and as taken for granted as brushing our teeth.

Can you imagine what your work and personal life would be like without the computer you rely upon to simplify work and daily living a hundred different ways?

So when we soon enough begin the inevitable decline of oil production owing to geology, geopolitical events, economic factors, natural depletion rates, business investment decisions (take your pick)—while we’re simultaneously confronted with increasing demand from other parts of the world for an ever-decreasing supply—who loses out?

When we no longer have at the ready all of the oil each and every one of us needs to satisfy all the demands and preferences and expectations of industry as well as our own lifestyles, what are we prepared to sacrifice? What if you now had to share one computer with your entire family or with the co-workers in your office or department? Are you prepared for that kind of possibility?

What production limitations is Dell or IBM or Apple going to impose when they no longer have the needed quantity of petrochemical-based components they need to manufacture their products in amounts sufficient to match demand—let alone the fossil fuels needed to run the machinery that builds and delivers their products?

Who in the distribution chain is either going to be left out entirely or forced to make all kinds of accommodations to a decreased supply of fossil fuels they need to manufacture and transport their own pieces of the puzzle? When the quantity of component parts is curtailed because we simply no longer have enough oil to satisfy the industrial food chain and thus personal and business demands for all kinds of computers can no longer be met, how are we to decide which components, suppliers, transportation modes, manufacturers, marketers, stores, and consumers have priority in the supply and acquisition of computers?

Is the investment department of your financial services firm more deserving of a couple of computers than the business you run, or the emergency room of your local hospital? Multiply that scenario by the countless legitimate needs of your family members and friends and acquaintances and local and national and international businesses, and then imagine what happens when someone has decreed that the computer industry and the entire supply and distribution chain it relies upon will from now have to make do with 15% or 25% or 40% less of everything needed to meet demand because oil producers worldwide simply cannot meet demand any longer.

What happens then?

How is this all supposed to work itself out of we don’t start taking steps to recognize the limitations and challenges we’re going to face and begin doing something about it now?

Do we really want to wait until we are forced to try and implement last-minute plans and endure drastic changes? Keep in mind that I’m just presenting a casual overview of personal computers. Multiply the disruptions by the countless products we all use every day….

How are we going to even produce all of these items when we don’t have enough fossil fuels to meet the production and transportation and marketing and delivery processes? How many people lose their jobs along the entire distribution and production chain when Apple and Dell and all the others simply cannot manufacture enough laptops to meet demand because their suppliers can’t meet their own quotas?

Which businesses along the chain of computer manufacture and distribution have to revise their business practices because they no longer have a sufficient number of computers to match and meet the needs of their employees? Which departments get shortchanged? How do you undo the benefits of computer technology required to manufacture and distribute those very products—benefits we completely take for granted now?

How much re-configuration and re-invention of the entire computer manufacturing and distribution process will be needed to meet demand if suppliers and manufacturers and all the other necessary parties have to figure out how to make do with either less energy resources or alternative energy sources that simply do not match the efficiency and productivity of fossil fuels?

What kind of substitutions might then be available to these computer manufacturers? What cost increases would be associated with alternative components? What kind of restructuring would be needed up and down the supply and distribution chains? How quickly can this entire chain of revised production and distribution fall into place?

The reality is that in the not-too-distant—as oil supplies continue their decline and manufacturers everywhere and in all industries are obliged to re-configure the work they produce and the products they supply—we will have nowhere near the alternative sources of energy in place to effect seamless transitions for manufacturing and delivering computers.

What happens then?