cell phone

New technologies can often have unintended side effects, indeed, unlooked for side-effects that seem to come straight out of left-field. Cell phones have been around since 1979, when Nippon Telegraph and Telephone (NTT) set up the first cellular network in Japan. Since that first generation network (1G), there have been considerable advances in the power and range of cell phones and related devices. Cell phones can be found in 59% of Canadian households, with an adoption rate of 52 subscribers per 100 inhabitants. While this is on the low side for an industrial nation, it is growing rapidly. Cell phones are becoming more common as they become more powerful and less expensive. Some households are even opting to forego a conventional landline since cell phones come with so many more features. These advances may have come at a cost, though.

While cell phones are considered safe technology, there is mounting evidence to suggest prolonged exposure can possibly lead to brain tumors. The effect is very short-ranged, and can be influenced by a number of factors. Power of the cell phone is the main influence, along with the distance to the nearest base station. Exposure duration is another factor, and experts suggested the use of headsets to keep the phone away from the head. Of course, the most popular headset types are Bluetooth devices, which, like cell phones, are radio devices. While Bluetooth headsets are lower power than most cell phones, the fact that they are pushed into your ear, that much closer to the brain, increase their risk. While there is no evidence that they can cause cancer, or have any ill-effects at all, further studies would be advisable.

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In a similar vein, there is more research to link cell phone usage with the die-off of honey bees that has been seen for the past 5 years or so. While it may just be one of a number of factors influencing bee populations, it needs to be considered. The current theory is that the emissions from cell phones disturb the bees’ natural navigation ability, and also seems to adversely affect life within the hive itself. In the most current study, conducted at Punjabi University, the hive exposed to radio emissions from cell phone spawned significantly fewer bees than the hive in the control group. While this study is not conclusive, it certainly suggests that this topic needs more research.

Many new products, especially consumer electronics, are pushed out the door and into the market without due care and attention paid to how they will affect the people who use them, and how the environment will be impacted. While cell phones are undoubtedly a very useful piece of technology, they also may have effects that are unknown, and may remain that way until the first generation of extensive users, from the mid to late 1990’s, enters middle age. Indeed, the people using cell phones and Bluetooth headsets now constitute guinea pigs of a sort, testing out new, and potentially harmful products, with a benefit that will only come to later customers. The rapid pace of technological innovation and planned obsolescence has a host of problems, but in the rush to get products out the door, the need for long-range testing is often lost.

Colin Dunn was born and raised in Northern Alberta. Growing up in the boreal forest gave him an appreciation for nature, an appreciation that was enhanced by the works of his artist mother, Svala Dunn, who captured the landscapes and wildlife of the north in her oils and watercolors. He holds a Degree in Geography from the University of Alberta, with a concentration in Urban Studies. He has since found career in information technology, but still pursues his first interests in geography and the environment. He lives and works in southern Vancouver Island, with his wife and three children.

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