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Jul 11

Life on the Wired Side

Recently, I called my wireless provider and opted out of my three year contract for the meager sum of 240$ plus taxes. (Meager, you ask? It all depends upon perspective, I suppose.) I have decided to replace my wireless cellular phone with a corded home phone. Why? Because, I am afraid. Quite afraid. There is increasing empirical evidence that cellular phone use is possibly detrimental to one’s long-term health. While the evidence is certainly still mixed, and more research is required before definitive conclusions can be reached, findings are not leaning as hard as I would like them to in favor of the null hypothesis; that is, the scale is tipped away from the conclusion that there is no link between cellular phone use and adverse health effects.

In their review of the literature, published in the peer-reviewed Pathophysiology, Sage and Carpenter (2009) conclude that the dangers inherent in cellular phone use are too great to ignore. Pointing to increased risk of brain tumors, the rest of their article reads like a spine-tingling Stephen King novel. Things get even more dire when considering how similar conclusions were reached by an organization that touts itself as the worldwide overseer of Human Wellbeing. The World Health Organization’s very own International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC; 2011) officially claimed radiofrequency electromagnetic fields, such as those emitted by cellular phones, to be potentially cancer-inducing. The answer to our problem is a simple, intuitive one: reduce our exposure to cellular phones.

To be sure, concerns other than those related to health also plague the use of cell phones. Indeed, these devices also commit their fair share of philosophical offenses. If you’ll allow me the rant, I am personally uncomfortable with the contemporary idea that one person can be reached anywhere at anytime. The concept oozes of Orwellian eeriness. (Note also recent reports that iPhone users’ locations are catalogued in a central location.) Since the advent of the cellular phone, we have come to expect people to be available when we want them to. In this way, these devices foster western society’s insatiable need for instant gratification. God forbid we should experience any delay! We want everything and we want it fast. And not only things like money and physical possessions, but actual people as well. I, for one, envy the days when telephoning someone involved the expectation that they might very probably not pick up, and that one may have to wait until that someone returned their call to talk to them. In this way, I find the philosophy underlying home phone use to be much more freeing and significantly less constraining than that underlying cellular phone use. Rant over. (For now.)

Should you be counting, that is two strikes. Make that three: the fact that there are any strikes to speak of against cellular phone use constitutes, in itself, a third strike. And, just like that, Mr. Cell Phone: you’re ouuuuut!

Choosing to make the transition from cellular phone to home phone was no easy choice. Yet, I figured if I was able to eliminate meat from my diet ten or so years ago, I could certainly eliminate cell phones from my routine. Still, seconds before making the call to my provider, second thoughts arose. I was then reminded of Acceptance and Commitment Therapy, a value-based approach to living well. Inspired by its philosophy, I’ve told clients to live in accordance with what is most important to them in life. I realized I’d be remiss if I didn’t as well, so I dialed the toll-free number. In the end, respect of others (in the case of my decision to go vegetarian) and personal health (in the case of my decision to go wired) won over deliciousness and practicality, respectively.

Unfortunately, the story doesn’t end with cell phones. In their review, Sage and Carpenter (2009) point to the dangers of all wireless technologies. (The IARC refrains from making such conclusions, claiming that insufficient studies exist to do so.) For safety’s sake, I am also taking down my home wireless Internet network, in favor of the old-fashioned wired option. Of course, I cannot control incoming signals from outside devices, be they cellular phones or wireless routers, but I can certainly control those emanating from my own devices. Should I ever develop cancer, I will at least be able to blame other people rather than myself for my condition, which I’m sure will provide me with at least some spiteful relief…

You may be thinking at this point: everything these days appears to be potentially carcinogenic! It is true that daily news headlines are rife with alarmist pronouncements, including those on cell phone use. My intention is certainly not to encourage such hysterical practices. Rather, I wish to advocate the type of life lived actively, where the behaviors we choose to engage in are based upon involved, personal deliberation, not wishful thinking, or no thinking at all.

To be sure, most media allegations probably are exaggerated. Still, we should not take the easy cognitive way out by passively dismissing hypotheses we come across simply because they might cause us emotional discomfort should they prove to be true. Instead, we should actively seek out the truth of matters, by venturing past the headlines and into the scientific literature, so as to weigh the evidence for ourselves, for our sake…

References:

International Agency for Research on Cancer (2011). Press Release #208: IARC classifies radiofrequency electromagnetic fields as possibly carcinogenic to humans. Retrieved May 29, 2011, from http://www.iarc.fr/en/media-centre/pr/index.php.

Sage, C., & Carpenter, D. O. (2009). Public health implications of wireless technologies. Pathophysiology, 16, 233-246.

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