|The more info we have, the harder it is to separate truth|
"I am not a guinea pig. Are you?"
Are my toys playing with my DNA?
babulous, medium.com, 27 November 2015
Last week, I got my first wearable. Before using it, I wanted to read up on it, to learn if it was safe to have on my person, 24/7. My goal was a blog about how to safely use gadgets. But I ended up learning a lot more than I expected. Let me start at the beginning.
My new $12 Mi Band is a barebones wearable from Xiaomi without even a dial to tell the time. What it does have is a motion sensor that counts my steps and monitors my sleep patterns. It also has a vibration motor as well as notification lights to communicate. I can set it to vibrate when I get a call, or receive messages, or as an alarm. The notification lights do some notifying. But decoding flashing lights is a bit too nerdy for me. The invisible cellphone unlock function is fun, and I happily buckled on the band.
Truth is stranger than fiction
My wife however didn’t share my excitement. She worries about the harm that gadgets may be doing to our bodies. She’s not into technology but she’s aware her ear gets warm when she talks too long on her cellphone, and she intuitively knows that can’t be good.
My curiosity was tickled and I began to wonder if her worry was justified. Cellphones have become popular only in the last 10–15 years, and it may be too early to understand their effect on our bodies. So I read up about them.
What I found was an almost fictional tale of invisible rays, DNA cracking, ruthless corporates, global media manipulation, a crusading scientist whose house gets mysteriously burnt down, and more. In short, all the ingredients for a riveting Hollywood thriller.
I was more worried about my brains being cooked than cooking up a thriller. So I have stuck to my goal of a blog about safely using gadgets, though I have touched upon these stories, and given links for more details. However the blog is a bit longer than I expected. Getting at the truth was not easy with so many exposes, coverups and unverified stories.
Is history repeating itself?
It took nearly 50 years for the dangers of smoking to become accepted. The fact that tobacco was a huge cash generating industry with a powerful lobby may have something to do with it. But tobacco was miniscule compared to the size of the global cellphone industry, so it may be a case of deja vu.
A cellular phone is basically a radio that sends signals on electromagnetic waves (microwaves) to its network’s cellular tower. The waves’ effect is like a microwave oven, but weaker. It’s measured as SAR (specific absorption rate), and a cellphone’s legal limit is 1.6 watts/kg. Cellphones with high SAR are more damaging. The harmful effects are increased by other factors like the cellphone’s signal strength, distance from your body, and time on your body. However, heating may not be where the real danger is. I’ll come back to this.
Hitting below the belt
All of us have first hand stories of the effects of cellphones. Mine is about a friend who used to drive around all day with his cellphone on the car seat between his thighs and up close to his unmentionables. He ended up visiting his doctor to complain about a pain in the unsaid part. The doctor advised him to keep his cellphone away from his body, and the pain vanished.
Reading between the lines
That’s when I first began to wonder if I was being too complacent about my toys. The problem is technology is so deeply interwoven with my life that it’s hard to avoid close contact with my gadgets. But if I can make some sense of the online info overload, maybe I can work out some guidelines for myself.
There is a lot of conflicting info on the internet about the danger of cellphone usage. So I tried to put two and two together. Like the fact that many insurance companies no longer cover health problems caused by cellphones radiation. Besides, 60% of insurance companies are refusing to cover cellphone makers and wireless carriers against future health damage suits, and forecasting brain tumour costs between 2020 and 2030.
The alarm bells began going off in my head.
Do cellphones cause cancer?