Smartphone, A Smart Choice?

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Last morning, when I woke up, my head was heavy and my body stressed. I do not have long working hours or a hectic schedule, I eat well and had slept well and yet as I woke up, I was far from fresh. As I woke up, the first thing I did was to check my Blackberry – any emails/messages/missed calls? No. Next I went to the terrace for the morning sandhya practices, the phone in my hand. As soon as I finished, I found myself scrolling the phone once again – any new updates? No. The little voice in my head rang a bell.  ‘Updates at 6.30am? What is wrong with you?’ That voice seemed to have a point and I started observing…In breaks from work, as I would sit/walk/drive, even while eating or in breaks from sleep, after every half hour/fifteen minutes, my hand would reach for the phone and I would spend at least 3-5 minutes just scrolling mindlessly, looking for updates and in their absence just staring at previously received information, oblivious to the people, things and events around me. I knew there was a problem and felt that maybe here lay the answer to why I was so tired when I woke up. I did some research and I was not surprised.

World Health Organisation recognizes mobile phone radiations as possibly carcinogenic, and smartphones with their advanced features like web-browsing, email access, social networking applications, gaming and cameras emit far more radiation than the not-so-smart ones. There are plenty of experiments that have been conducted to assess the effect of mobile radiation on various life-forms (see the box to the right).

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Evolution might have altered the physical and chemical make-up of human beings but it has definitely not built a microwave shield in our systems as yet. With escalating rates of cancer and hormonal and neural imbalances, we must ask ourselves if it is wise to emit or be exposed to such high levels (approx one billion times above natural background) of microwaves so routinely.  If not, then what is the alternative?

One simple solution is to return to the use of cable. (Many laptops and tablet computers can use ethernet; telephone landlines can take our bulk calls.) Following reports of health problems, a number of French libraries have swapped Wi-Fi for cabled internet. Others have binned cordless-phone stands, emissions from which were found to disturb heartbeat by health researcher, Magda Havas, Trent University, Ontario. Even if one takes these measures, there is still risk of exposure to radiation from the cell phone towers. In fact, a team led by Patrizia Frei at the University of Basel in 2009 found that cumulative exposure from urban cell-towers was higher on average than that from mobile phones themselves and many researchers have noted increased headaches, poor sleep and other problems in families living near them. Klaus Buchner of the Technical University at Munich, and Emad Eskander, an endocrinologist at the National Research Centre in Cairo, each found long-term hormonal imbalances in people living near new or existing masts. Environmental engineer Adilza Dode of the University of Minas Gerais scrutinised public health records in Brazil, and found that cancer deaths increased sharply with local mast density and in Israel, physiologist Ronni Wolf of Tel Aviv University documented triple and quadruple cancer rates in their near fields.

 

Back home, we are busy cursing the areas where there is no connectivity and looking forward to more features, more applications and even “smarter” mobile phones which are dulling our senses and keeping us trapped in a virtual world. It is at times when the mind is put to rest that one is able to connect with higher ideas that may contribute to growth and development; unfortunately, the times when our mind could be at rest, are used by us to fidget with our smart devices. I’d suggest, switch-off that phone and till you do not, pay heed to the following safety instructions by Environmental Working Group.

  1. Use a headset or speaker
  2. Hold phone away from your body
  3. Text more, talk less
  4. Call when the signal is strong
  5. Limit children’s phone use
  6. Skip the “radiation shields” (such as antenna caps and keypad covers)

 

Aspen seedlings exposed to RF radiations produced smaller plants that lacked pigment and had sickly leaves whereas seeds that were shielded grew into healthy plants. (Study by Colorado researcher, Katie Haggerty, International Journal of Forestry Research)

Of the tadpoles that were exposed to radiation, only 10% survived whereas the ones that were shielded from its effect developed normally. (Study by Spanish biologist, Alfonso Balmori, Institute for the Environment)

Multiple cataracts in calves and decline in sparrow population were recorded near phone masts by Michael Hassig, University of Zurich and Belgian researcher, Joris Everaert, Reseach Institute for Nature & Forest

Fruit flies exposed even to weak fields of radiation suffered DNA damage and infertility. (Study by radiobiologist Dimitris Panagopoulus, University of Athens)

Ants exposed to weak signal showed confused behaviour and forgot cues that led them to food. (Study by Marie-Claire Cammaerts, Université Libre, Brussels)

Human cells exposed to a weak microwave signal showed a comet-tail of DNA damage streaming from each cell. (Study by microbiologists Henry Lai and Narendra Singh, University of Washington,  Seattle)

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