All this talk about rare earth, China curbing export and how all new devices need to use it. After reading an article on gizmodo about some rare material that is being used in touch screens and some wikipedia’ing, I have found out rare earth is a pretty lose term.
The term rare earth commonly refers to rare earth elements (actual metals that you can find on the periodic table), rare earth alloys (combinations of these metals) and rare earth oxides. Since it encompasses so many different materials (elements, alloys and compounds) its harder to wrap your mind around it as compared to something like crude oil.
One of these oxides according to New Scientist in the Gizmodo article indium tin oxide (ITO) has the super rare property of being conducting and opaque and hence enables us to produce accurate touch screens and stuff like solar cells.
Many of our new technological products use these rare (earth) materials and I can see the parallel to crude oil which people are using with China holding 97% of global output