Friday, February 25, 2011

What Are Cell Phones Doing to Us?

The big study that got a lot of media attention this week was one that showed extended cell phone use causes changes in brain activity, presumably due to the proximity of its electromagnetic field. Here's the key bit:
"Dr. Nora Volkow, director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse (part of the National Institutes of Health), reports Tuesday in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) that a cell phone's electromagnetic field can cause changes in brain activity. Specifically, she and her team found that the regions nearest to the antenna of closely held mobile devices showed higher rates of energy (or glucose) consumption."

Glucose consumption essentially means that that part of the body is working harder, and using more energy. Is that because we are stimulating the cells in such a way as they could become cancerous? Or is the brain just more active in the area near a signal? No one knows, although those who believe wireless signals cause cancer will not wait for definitive proof to validate their fears.

I highlight the study not because I think we're all about to grow iPhone shaped tumors in our brains, but because it shows how unclear we still are about how the changes we make to our environment impact the human body. When someone wants to build a dam, they have to do detailed studies and show exactly how that the development will impact the river. But if someone wants to sell us transmitting devices that we'll hold up to our ear or keep next to our reproductive organs all day, they go ahead and we figure out later if it is a problem. I think we ask too much in the case of the dam, and too little in the case of the cell phone.

And maybe we should be a bit more humble about pursuing advances in genetic engineering, bio-enhancements, and brain-computer interfaces when we can't even figure out if our phones are doing something nasty to our brains.

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