Are Cellphones Safe or Not?
Cellphones certainly make life easier, but there is no conclusive evidence as to whether they are dangerous or not. We asked some experts for answers.
New research shows cellphones actually ease the stress of modern living. A study by the Australian National University of 1,300 cellphone users found 75 percent felt more secure when carrying a phone. “Mobile phones have introduced perpetual contact and micro-coordination to everyday human existence,” says study co-author Professor Michael Bittman of the University of New England. Respondents said being “on call” was a good thing and that everyday living would be “unimaginable” without their phone.
The new back fence
Cellphones are a “social lifeline”, according to Kate Fox of the UK’s Social Issues Research Centre. The centre’s research shows that 75 percent of us gossip on our mobiles at least once a week, with about a third indulging every day. “Mobiles have allowed us to return to the more natural communication of pre-industrial society, when we lived in small communities and enjoyed frequent talk with a tight-knit group,” says Fox. “Mobiles restore our sense of connection in an isolating world.”
Three hikers lost in the Grampians in Victoria have their phone’s camera to thank for their speedy rescue. After identifying a mountain range in the background of photos the lost trio sent, rescue teams were able to concentrate the search to about one square kilometre. “Without the phone it may have taken several days to find the group,” says Police Inspector Martin Dorman. Cellphones are handy in emergency situations.
Doctors are using cellphones to take snapshots of injuries and firing them off to consultants for instant advice. “Consultants are hard to reach and rely on registrars to describe X-rays and injuries. This way we are both looking at the same thing,” says Dr Tai Khoa Lam of Sydney’s Nepean Hospital.
Mobile romance has become the norm, especially for the younger generation. Relationships Australia reports that 40 percent of us use technology, mainly mobile phones, to form important personal relationships, with 23 precent use it to start a romance.
More than half of the participants in an Australian National University study said their cellphone increased their productivity and a third said it would be difficult to do their job properly without it. “Respondents said their mobiles made them work more intensively,” says Professor Bittman. “But those who used their phones for work purposes also reported higher stress and pressure from having to work at an accelerated speed.”
Radiofrequency radiation from a mobile held against the ear will heat the brain, even though exposure limit for radiation from mobiles is low. Even so, some medical experts believe heavy users have a greater chance of developing cancer on the side of the head the phone is used. "Limit cellphone use because of the possible risk of cancer," warns Ronald B. Herberman, MD, director of the University of Pittsburgh Cancer Institute.
According to Stats Canada, in 2006 there were 16.8 million cellphone users in Canada. Since few of us are recycling them, that translates into millions of cellphones laying around our homes and offices. Cellphones that end up in landfills leach poisonous substances such as arsenic, beryllium, cadmium, copper, lead, mercury and zinc into the environment. Find out what to do with your cellphone.
Researchers at the University of Toronto’s Department of Medicine have found that the risk of an accident while using a cellphone is increased fourfold. Cellphones also seem to bring out the worst in pedestrians. An Ohio State University study found that 48 percent of cell users crossed the street in front of approaching cars compared to just 25 percent of people not on phones.
A study of youth phone use by lobby group Youth Action and Policy Association found the average age for teens to begin using mobiles is 13, and many spend more than half their income on bills. According to the study, 40 percent of young people have been billed for more than $200 in a month and 4 percent had received bills for more than $1500.
Personal phones are being used to catch out cheaters. A Swiss poll by market research firm NOP found that 45 percent of women and 31 percent of men said they would secretly check their partner’s mobile for provocative messages if they suspected an illicit affair.
More than 90 percent of us, according to the ANU research, say our lives could not “proceed as normal” without our mobiles. The immediacy–being able to contact friends and family from anywhere at any time – makes us feel safe and connected. But does it create a false sense of security?
A recent US survey of university students found 42 percent of women and 28 percent of men are more willing to venture somewhere dark and unsafe with a mobile on hand.
The convenience that comes with owning a mobile also means that many of us are happy to turn a blind eye to any risk of cancer. Until there is conclusive evidence found, scientists and doctors are recommending limiting use and using a headset to reduce radiofrequency exposure. Read about their recommended safety tips for cellphones.