Consumers won't give up certain things no matter how hard governments, regulators, and industry bodies try. For instance, cigarette smoking “is dangerous to your health,” as we all know, but millions of units of this “dangerous” substance are consumed worldwide each day. Illegal drug use is a huge problem, too, despite weighty evidence of the dangerous effects of these banned substances on the health and finances of users.
Then there are the “soft” dangers; things that are not banned but which research indicate could do damage to our health. In this group are food and drink products like red wine (if you imbibe, which I do) or Texas steak (well done, please!). To this group of consumer products you can add mobile communication devices, according to the World Health Organization. The WHO, in conjunction with the International Agency for Research on Cancer, has “classified radiofrequency electromagnetic fields as possibly carcinogenic to humans, based on an increased risk for glioma, a malignant type of brain cancer, associated with wireless phone use.” Read the full report here, if you dare.
That's some frightening stuff, but the WHO press release, issued on May 31, 2011, generated some buzz and quite as quickly vanished from the headlines. Why? Billions of people could be at risk, so why wasn't there a major outcry following the release of this report?
Perhaps my personal experience could help explain the apathy. I was an early user of mobile phones and, since I was frequently traveling by road, bought “handsfree” accessories to reduce distractions behind the wheel. This was long before my state and numerous others began enacting and enforcing laws banning drivers from holding their phones while driving. I must admit to having experienced some headache with certain Bluetooth earpieces but after trying a few others, I settled on one that works fine. I am not averse to using a corded handsfree set either.
I respect the WHO and won't argue with the 31 scientists who worked on its latest report. Just don't try to take my cellphone from me. It's my primary means of communication and a significant part of my wardrobe. It stays attached on my belt all day long and comes off only to go on a charger before bed time. I am a mobile phone junky! I am surrounded by RF emitting devices. I have a wireless network at home, a wireless printer, wireless/cordless land-line phones, a wireless broadband card, and I am still searching for the perfect — for me — tablet PC, which, of course, would be wireless.
Is all this stuff killing me? Please don't make me think like that. I started my career in journalism writing stories on a typewriter, and, for all its utility, I may be able to do without even a computer (perhaps). But no mobile phone? I hold conference calls on the road — and get regularly ribbed by EBN director Bob Dumas for talking while cruising around in “one of those expensive convertibles” (not true, can't afford one). I fire up my computer and hook up to the Web at numerous service stations on the New Jersey Turnpike. I get my emails via a BlackBerry phone.
The WHO report is not going to make me give up this lifestyle. Let's admit it, this won't move the needle with billions of other mobile phone users worldwide either. So, let's do the next best thing, or what we do best in the high-tech world. Rather than continue the argument about whether or not radio frequency electromagnetic fields are dangerous to human health, let's take this WHO result and find solutions to the problem.
How can we reduce emissions and make this product safer; what kind of accessories should users be encouraged to adopt; and how do we ensure reports like this don't get ignored by folks like me who may (dumbly) think they can dodge problems associated with high-tech products?