Last Friday I did the unthinkable – I switched off my mobile phone.
At first there was the separation anxiety, not unlike the cravings one feels when on a diet, that insatiable yearning for something you know you can’t have. Then there was the involuntary impulse to reach into my pocket to check the phone for a text message, email or a missed call. Every look at the blank screen was disappointing.
As lunchtime approached, I’d become suitably acclimatised to this change to my daily routine. I read the newspaper uninterrupted over a strong Irish tea. It makes you realise how much the mobile impacts on everyday life. I use it far too much. If you ask me, enough is enough.
In light of the recent World Health Organisation study on mobile phones and brain cancer, my Friday self-discovery was all that more unsettling.
In the 10-year study, it was found that while mobile phones didn’t increase risk of cancer overall, those in the top 10 per cent of phone use are 40 per cent more likely to develop glioma, a common type of brain cancer.
Just 30 minutes of mobile talk time daily was enough to put participants into the top 10 risk percentile of the study.
What does that mean? Do mobile phones increase cancer or don’t they? The findings would suggest that mobile phones aren’t as dangerous as many scientists have thought but at the same time, the findings err on the side of caution, covering their back in case it’s later discovered that phones are indeed a cancer risk.
Many leading neurosurgeons claim the investigations were methodologically biased towards finding nothing and that mobile phones are still a huge risk. Scientific studies of this nature require statistical correlations of all the information available including all possible causes and outcomes.
Cancer research has advanced however I’m sure that many of us have heard somebody say: “He never smoked a day in his life, was fit as a fiddle but died of lung cancer”.
The fact is that sadly we still don’t always know the reason why some people get cancer and unfortunately you would have to assume that a study of this nature has a lot of unknown variables. I can understand why the research organisation did not immediately reveal their results.
On one hand the results may worry people but on the other these results may give peace of mind. It takes great responsibility to deliver that kind of information. Many phone users will very likely decide that they don’t use their phone for greater than 30 minutes a day and therefore will carry on as normal.
Maybe they’re right. Personally I wouldn’t like to be the research director signing off those findings – cynicism and conspiracy theories aside, placing something close to your head that emits radiation still doesn’t sound good to me.
Obviously that’s my opinion but there is something scarily reminiscent about these investigations and the early studies into cigarettes and lung cancer – potential health risks were first discovered in the 1920s but major political action didn’t take place until almost 60 years later.
And what about the younger generation? In a separate study in the UK, it was found that at least 90% of 13-16 year olds were found to have their own mobile phone, as did more than 40 per cent of primary school children. What is the overall risk of mobile phone usage on a developing brain?
It scares me to even think about it.
Aside from the health risks or lack there of, mobile phones impact on our lives in a multitude of other ways. No one can deny how useful they are but likewise we can’t deny how invasive they’ve become.
Conversations among friends can come to a grinding halt by the in-coming call or message and work doesn’t have to stop when we leave the office; many of us take it everywhere we go. I have seen, on more than one occasion, men stand at urinals doing their business while still talking on their mobile phones.
We send and receive emails and text right into the night. Our full attention is strayed by occasional glances for phone or internet updates. For a social device, it can be extremely anti-social.
Turning my phone off for a full day last Friday was an unexpected eye-opener.
I think an annual ‘Phones OFF Day’ is called for – I wonder how popular that would be?
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