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Editorial Archives The Altamont Enterprise, September 21, 2006
Talks not cheap
Illustration by Forest Byrd
Cell phones are ubiquitous. They may also be dangerous.
We see them in the hands of police officers at the scene of a bank robbery, working to solve the crime. We see them pressed to the ears of grocery shoppers, pushing their carts through the aisles at the local supermarket, checking on items needed at home. We see them attached to the heads of teens as they share the latest with their friends.
We would be naive to think that we could turn back the clock a quarter of a century to the days when people used only land lines and households shared a common phone. Its like remembering the days when a typical American home had one TV and the family gathered together to watch a show on one of three network stations.
Technology has changed our culture and Americans arent about to give up the convenience, the immediacy, the individuality of the cell phone.
But we hope our readers, especially parents whose children use the phones, will temper their use after reading this weeks Enterprise. Daniel Driscoll of Knox wrote us a letter that piqued our interest. Weve known Driscoll for years as a reliable and trustworthy man, both through decades of covering his local planning initiatives and also because of his expertise on public-health issues.
Driscoll, an engineer whose Ph.D. thesis was on electrical currents in the brain, tells us that most of the research on electromagnetic fields (EMF) in this country is funded by cell-phone companies and generally shows no adverse health effects. This reminds us of the research decades ago funded by tobacco companies that didnt turn up a link with cancer.
Driscoll, though, points to a recently-released study from Germany that reports a brain-tumor risk after a decade of cell-phone use. A recent Swedish study reached similar conclusions.
Currently, a class-action suit is testing the relationship. But we urge cell-phone users not to rely on the courts or even the government to protect them.
Although tobacco companies have now paid huge sums for smokers who died of lung cancer, and although the government has required health warnings on every pack of cigarettes stating that smoking causes lung cancer, heart disease, and emphysema, people are still smoking and people are still dying of these diseases every day.
We, as individuals, have to take responsibility for ourselves. We, as parents, have to take responsibility to teach our children. We, as citizens in a democracy, need to speak out on our concerns.
Driscoll has suggested that local governments insist on maps detailing the intensity of electromagnetic radiation before they allow companies to put up towers. We urge them to do so.
Its easy to assume that, just because almost everyone we know uses a cell phone, they are safe.
We don’t know, for sure, that they are dangerous. More time and money is needed for concrete research. But why risk it" Why not modify our use of them to minimize the risk"
Driscoll says that a flip phone or clamshell cellular phone produces one-tenth as much EMF in the brain as the palm-sized designs.
An ear bud is another way to cut the risk although Driscoll cautions the phone should not rest in the users lap, to avoid potentially damaging exposure to genitalia.
Similarly, using the speaker feature on a cell phone keeps the head away from the antenna, thereby reducing the exposure.
The less you use a cellular phone, the less you will be exposed to potential harm. Parents, Driscoll writes, should not let their children have cell phones as entertainment, to have long conversations with friends.
Louis Slevin, publisher of Microwave News, goes beyond that. He says, "Children under the age of 12 should be actively discouraged from using cell phones."
Changing habits, of course, is hard. But we believe, beyond cutting the health risks, there are other benefits as well.
Weve written many times in recent years of the concerns teachers, parents, and health experts have about the sedentary lifestyle of todays kids. But we Americans face dangers beyond our obesity.
Weve created a culture where kids, instead of running outside after school to meet friends to play often prefer staying home and talking to each other on their cell phones or communicating on their computers.
Young kids can learn a lot by playing with each other and older kids can learn, too, from social interaction with their peers. Modern methods of communication IMing, text-messaging, e-mailing have cut out not just face-to-face contact but even voice-to-voice contact.
The targets in such communication are specific. You know who you’re calling or texting or e-mailing. How, then, do kids learn to make new acquaintances, to maneuver through random encounters, to learn to include others"
We may be raising a generation that is technologically advanced but socially stunted.
Last week, we attended a session at Guilderland High School designed to help ease the transition for first-year students and their parents. The successful session was the brainchild of the freshman dean, Lisa Patierne.
"I have a 14-year-old daughter," Patierne told the assembled parents, describing the permanent appendage affixed to her child’s ear. "I’m sure you feel my pain," she quipped.
When upperclasswomen on a panel at the event were asked by the parent of a ninth-grader what was their most negative experience as freshmen, the answers had to do with isolation.
"Going to lunch and not knowing who to sit with," said one girl.
"The sheer fact I didn’t know anyone," answered another.
What Patierne has instigated at the high school are ways for kids to break out of isolation and connect with each other and the school. These range from club sign-up sessions to advisory periods with student mentors where kids engage in serious talks and frivolous games. All of it leads to growth.
The key is moderation. If we look at a cell phone, for example, as a tool, we can see the value of having a child use it when it is needed always for emergencies, often to set up meetings with friends.
If we, as parents, limit the extended use that verges on abuse, not only will we limit the potential risk of future brain tumors, well be enhancing the society around us.
Melissa Hale-Spencer, editor
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