Archive for the ‘Cerebral Secretions’ Category

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.

Humans love stories. In fact, we love them so much that we have been attempting to make them more like real life since the late Paleolithic era. First came pictures, than much later motion, followed by sound, and eventually color. For the last few decades, we have, with varying degrees of success, attempted to add a new feature to this list: an extra dimension. As many of you have probably noticed, 3D is making a comeback, with many new releases coming out in “exciting!” and “eye-popping!” 3D. Yet, I cannot help but wonder: does the extra dimension contribute anything more to the experience than the usual combination of (2D) picture, motion, sound and color? Indeed, should we strive to produce movies that are completely physically immersive, with additional tactile, gustatory and olfactory stimulation? Would this embody the ultimate in storytelling? While I may very well bite my tongue half a century from now, I am presently inclined to say no. Not at all.

3D is both praised and maligned: some, like Hollywood executive Jeffrey Katzenberg, espouse its wonders, whereas others, like movie critic Roger Ebert, struggle to find any redeeming feature. I consider myself part of the second camp. In order to settle the score, however, I propose that we develop a new field of study, called Cinematic Science. The first research project would be to show a variety of films that combine the core elements in every different way possible: moving/still images, sound/silence, color/black and white, and 3D/2D. (For the scientists among our readers, yes, this is a 2x2x2x2 research design.) Subsequent to each viewing, we would assess each participant’s level of engagement with the film. At the end of the experiment, we would be able to determine the degree to which each feature and combination of features promotes engagement. My hypothesis: the combination of moving images, sound, color, and 3D or 2D will contribute significantly more variance than any of these features alone; however, I expect no significant difference between 3D and 2D. In other words, I suggest the combination of these basic elements can together draw in an audience, but 3D is by no means a useful tool for increasing audience engagement.

As far as I am concerned, movies achieved perfection when they became, as their name implies, moving pictures. The addition of sound and that of color, while revolutionary, were merely add-ons, much like the addition of an extra dimension. The difference between sound & color and an extra dimension, however, is that sound & color open up doors toward more artistic possibilities. Imagine Walt Disney’s experimental Fantasia (1940), for example, without any music or colors. Inconceivable, right? Now imagine Fantasia, only in 3D. I would hardly call this new version an improvement. After all, 3D merely adds an extra layer of depth; artistically speaking, there is not much you can do with that. You can throw things every which way at your audience, but that is hardly the mark of art. In fact, many critics claim that 3D amounts to no more than a gimmick meant to distract moviegoers from the declining quality of movies. While it is true that most movies coming out in 3D are not Oscar contenders, that accusation does not represent a fair assessment of the true value of 3D. The question is not: can 3D make a poor movie excellent? The real question is: can 3D enhance an already excellent movie? From an artistic point of view: no. But what about from an experiential point of view?

Proponents of 3D contend that it promotes audience immersion (i.e., engagement). As reflected in my hypothesis, however, I believe that what contributes the most to this factor is good old-fashioned storytelling, in the form of capable screenwriting, directing, cinematography, scoring, editing, and so on. Walter Murch, reputed film editor and sound designer, recently wrote to Roger Ebert, pointing out the limitations of the 3D image. In his letter, he also describes how well-told stories cause us to become emotionally and intellectually invested, immersing us in a fully dimensional imaginative experience. Murch explains: “3D films remind the audience that they are in a certain “perspective” relationship to the image. It is almost a Brechtian trick. Whereas if the film story has really gripped an audience they are “in” the picture in a kind of dreamlike “spaceless” space. So a good story will give you more dimensionality than you can ever cope with.”

Indeed, no amount of added dimension will ever make Takahata’s Grave of the Fireflies (1988) sadder, Zucker’s Rat Race (2001) funnier, Spielberg’s Jaws (1975) scarier, Zemeckis’ Back to the Future (1985) more thrilling, DeBlois and Sanders’ Lilo and Stitch (2002) more endearing, Morris’ Standard Operating Procedure (2008) more thought-provoking, or Welles’ Citizen Kane (1941) more perfect. Ever. And with the risk of biting my tongue twice, I guarantee it.

Note: If you want to spend your extra dollars on a fully 3-dimensional entertainment experience, my boyfriend recommends you buy a ticket to one of your local playhouses, which have all been retrofitted for 3D capability since 1836. Just make sure you avoid one of those shows where the actors come into the audience. This tactic, sadly, is the theatre equivalent to cinema’s 3D.

UPDATE (09/16/2012): In my post, I propose a new field of study, which I call Cinematic Science. Little did I know when I first wrote and published the post, such a field already exists. In fact, I recently came across The Society for Cognitive Studies of the Moving Image (SCSMI), which has been promoting research on the psychology of moviegoing since the late 1990s.

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