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The really big mobile phone experiment

March 15, 2011

I have a smartphone, but I don’t use it to make a lot of calls. I use it to check in, check status, update Twitter, play games, and whatnot. Unless I forward calls to it, I don’t get a lot of calls on my phone. I never answer when driving.

In other words, I use my phone as a phone about 5% of the time, and as a computer 95% of the time.

I can remember about ten years ago reading a story about rats. Scientists test herbicides and pesticides on rats. In reality, those two things are poisons, and poisons are in the dose. So they test the does on rats, then magnify the numbers up for humans.

As you ponder that, ponder this. There is no equivalent way to test cell phones on rats. We don’t uniformly use mobile phones. Some people sleep with theirs, others rarely have them. That said, I wonder if there was a study out there, done on rats with cell phones held to their heads. And I wonder if that study turned up some alarming results. I wonder all this because Alex Bogusky recently wrote a blog post about not putting your iPhone to your ear.

“When I say don’t put your iPhone next to your head it’s not my opinion. It’s actually stated in the iPhone manual.”

You should go read the rest of it. Because Bogusky was involved in the famous Truth campaign, wherein they implored the Tobacco industry to tell the truth. He’s intimately familiar with the way that industry operated, and wonders whether the mobile phone industry is thinking the same thing. He says:

“As I gazed on the warning within the iPhone brochure, I couldn’t help but imagine the swirling emails and conversations among the legal team as they crafted this language. As any of you who have worked to get a manual out the door in time knows, this language has been considered very carefully and it has gone through many revisions. And the only reason it would make it into the final document is that the legal minds thought there was a liability issue that they were mitigating. Mitigating risk is their job and it is the job of this document. By “mitigating risk,” unfortunately, I don’t mean the risk to us the users, I mean the risk of financial liability for the company.”

Like I said, if you use a phone, it’s worth looking at your manual. I’m not generally alarmist. I’m not saying throw out your mobile phone. It’s a cool little computer that I might not be able to be without. But this made me look at the language in my manual, and it’s less conclusive than Apples. Mine says this:

“As with other mobile radio transmitting equipment, users are advised that for satisfactory operation of the equipment and for the safety of personnel, it is recommended that no part of the human body be allowed to come too close to the antenna during operation of the equipment.”

(Emphasis mine)

Or what? Why do these big companies offer dire warnings about using their phones?

I think it’s worth thinking about this more. It is worth taking precautions. Like I said, we’re in a massive, world-wide experiment on the long-term effects of mobile phones. It may be nothing.

But remember this: all poisons are in the dose. So it may be worth thinking hard about taking all those calls.

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