Are Cells the New Cigarettes?
By Maureen Dowd
Published: June 26, 2010
The great cosmic joke would be to find out definitively that the advances we thought were blessings — from the hormones women pump into their bodies all their lives to the fancy phones people wait in line for all night — are really time bombs.
Just as parents now tell their kids that, believe it or not, there was a time when nobody knew that cigarettes and tanning were bad for you, those kids may grow up to tell their kids that, believe it or not, there was a time when nobody knew how dangerous it was to hold your phone right next to your head and chat away for hours.
We don’t yet really know the physical and psychological impact of being slaves to technology. We just know that technology is a narcotic. We’re living in the cloud, in a force field, so afraid of being disconnected and plunged into a world of silence and stillness that even if scientists told us our computers would make our arms fall off, we’d probably keep typing.
San Francisco just became the first city in the country to pass legislation making cellphone retailers display radiation levels. The city’s Board of Supervisors voted 10 to 1 in favor. The one against, the Democrat Sean Elsbernd, said afterward: “It’s a slippery slope. I can go on Google right now and find you a study that says there’s a problem with the Starbucks you’re drinking.”
Different phone models emit anywhere from 0.2 watts per kilogram of body tissue to 1.6 watts, the legal limit. The amount of radio frequency energy seeping into the body and brain is measured by a unit called the Specific Absorption Rate (SAR).
“You see all these kids literally glued to their phones,” Gavin Newsom, the mayor of San Francisco, told me. “And candidly, my wife was pregnant and on her cellphone nonstop. So I dusted off some studies and started doing research.
“That’s when I discovered that companies who make cellphones are already required to disclose that information to the federal government, and that it exists but somewhere on someone’s Web page on the 88th page.” Why not underscore it, he thought, by alerting consumers at the store, putting the SAR level in the same font as the phone price?
His alarmed advisers, accustomed to seeing the sleek Newsom diving into bold stands without calculating the potential blowback — as with gay marriage — told him to focus on jobs and the economy.
“They said: ‘There you go again. They’re going to mock you. It’s going to be another sideshow,’ ” he recalled. But stroking his baby daughter’s soft head and reading new studies on the vulnerability of children’s thinner skulls to radiation, he persevered.
One Swedish study that followed young people who began using cells as teenagers for 10 years calculated a 400 percent increase in brain tumors. But as Nathaniel Rich recently pointed out in Harper’s, studies about cellphones’ carcinogenic potential all contradict one another, including those involving children.
When Newsom proposed the bill, telecommunications lobbyists went to the mattresses, as did hoteliers, who feared losing convention business.
He said that lobbyists from Washington made it clear that they would invoke “the nuclear option” and come down “like a ton of bricks.”
“This is tobacco money, oil money,” he said. “But these guys from D.C. do not know me because that has exactly the opposite effect. Shame on them, to threaten the city. It’s about as shortsighted as one could get in terms of a brand.”
Months before the bill passed, he read me part of a letter that Marriott sent him: “CTIA — The Wireless Association, which is scheduled to hold a major convention here in October 2010, has already contacted us about canceling their event if the legislation moves forward. They also have told us that they are in contact with Apple, Cisco, Oracle and others who are heavily involved in the industry, as you know, about not holding future events in your city for the same reason.”
Sure enough, when the bill passed Tuesday, CTIA issued a petulant statement that after 2010, it would relocate its annual three-day fall exhibition, with 68,000 exhibitors and attendees and “$80 million” in business, away from San Francisco.
“Since our bill is relatively benign,” Newsom said, “it begs the question, why did they work so hard and spend so much money to kill it? I’ve become more fearful, not less, because of their reaction. It’s like BP. Shouldn’t they be doing whatever it takes to protect their global shareholders?”
So now we have Exhibit No. 1,085 illustrating the brazenness of Big Business.
They should be sending Mayor Newsom a bottle of good California wine for caring about whether kids’ brains get fried, not leaving him worried about whether they’ll avenge themselves in his campaign for lieutenant governor.
He’s resigned to that possibility, just as he is to his own addiction. “I love my iPhone,” he said cheerfully.
A SAMPLE ANSWER:
What have we come to? It seems like nowadays we are more and more attached to technology. I am referring to our cell phones. Cell phones are not so much a device but part of us. It seemed like only yesterday when cell phones were more for business people. Now it’s a whole different story.
Approximately 88% of teens between ages 12-17 own a cell phone (“Teens, cell phones, and texting”) compared to 51% back in 2006. We teens have made cell phones an attachment to us. Everywhere we go, we can see teens with their cell phones out, whether one is at the park, at the movies and sometimes even at church. Nowadays most of us teens seem to not be able to get through the day without our cell phones.
Although owning a cell phone can be beneficial because there is always a need for communication between one another, cell phones only give us basic communication. What I mean is that we want to stay connected with our friends and family but we don’t do it by calling but rather texting. Although texting is a form of communication, it sometimes just leads us to forget to express ourselves. There are more teens that text now than actually make a call. The statistics show that teens enjoy texting rather than picking up the phone and saying “hello”.
As a teen myself I know its true. I find it easier to text than to call but in reality we are losing the form of communication where one can hear the reaction or expression of language. 54% of all teens are texting while only 38% make a call (Pew Research). One in three teens send more than 100 texts messages a day (Pew Research).
This is a call to action for us teens to limit ourselves on texting before it creates a major change to who we are. What I mean is that sometimes it’s a toll on us when we do not have a cell phone. As an example we have 16 year old Phillippa Grogan who said “Id rather give up, like, a kidney rather than my phone” (Teens, cell phones and texting). This for some of us might be how we would think. We become so attached to our phone that we can’t give it up.
This is because we have our own little world when we have our phone. As a female teen myself, I enjoy texting because I can gossip with my friends without people hearing, this I think is true for most girls and some guys. Some of us give way too much importance to our cell phones rather than actually going out and talking to our friends. Sometimes when we are out with friends we are still texting. What happened to the times where hanging out actually meant hanging out. Actually being able to have a good time without having a side conversation with someone else who is not there.
We as teens enjoy texting because we feel more privacy about what we say when people are around. I think we text because it keeps our parents from knowing what we are saying. This means we have our own “private world”. However, we should know where to have our limits set. We should not text when we are at family gatherings. Rather than being at the dinner table texting we should start a conversation and make it interesting. I’m not saying that all teen’s text while at dinner table, but the majority do. I learned that it’s not right because it’s a moment when one is with the family and texting can wait.
We need to break out of our own little world and step out of the keyboard range. We need to think back when we didn’t give too much of importance to cell phones and when we didn’t get upset because someone didn’t text us back. This includes parents as well. The parents have to be aware of when a child is spending too much time texting.
There are some teens that might spend hours of his or her cell phone rather than being outside doing an activity or even homework. Hopefully we teens make more use of being with friends and actually communicating like years back, rather than just using our cell phones and texting most of the time. We should use our cell phones and text only when we know its appropriate, like not at school or at church or at the movies. Maybe limit our texting and hang out more with our friends to keep the expression of language.
Henley, Jon “Teenagers and Technology” 15 July 2010
Lenhart, Amanda “Teens, Cell Phones and Texting” 20 April 2010
McKee, Jonothan “The Impact on Teens and Technology”