Maureen Dowd worries that cell phones are the new cigarettes; i.e. in 30 years children will think, “There was a time when people didn’t know cell phones were terrible for you? How were people that dumb?”
And the Diggles is worried too.
While there have been a number of studies linking cell phones to cancer, the long term effects of cell phone use remain pretty much a mystery. For all we know, they have little or no negative effects, or they will give everyone in the world who has used cell phones for more than 15 years a brain tumor. We really don’t know.
So what if they really do cause cancer? Would that stop us from using cell phones? I say no…
Let’s take cigarettes as a case study. How long has it been since we knew that cigarettes cause all kinds of health problems, including cancer? I’ll tell you how long… In January, 1964, U.S. Surgeon General Luther Terry issued a report that directly linked cigarette use to lung cancer and chronic bronchitis. NINETEEN SIXTY FOUR.
New York City banned smoking in bars and restaurants in 2003. Is that not utterly insane? We KNEW FOR A FACT in 1964 that cigarettes were carcinogenic (even second-hand exposure) yet it took us forty years to make it illegal to expose others to cigarette smoke in confined spaces. Why are we so slow to change?
And it’s not just with cigarettes. We, as a society, have failed to adjust many of our habits despite overwhelming evidence that they are harmful to ourselves and others. Take our dependence on oil for example. Despite the evidence of global warming, environmental harm, and the fact that we rely on the middle east for foreign sources of oil, have we really changed our habits of oil consumption? Did you change how much you drive as a result of the BP disaster? Me neither.
How about prescription drugs. I’m not going to quote some stat about how many people “abuse” prescription drugs since the definition of “abuse” in those stats is probably anyone who has touched a pill with their finger. But I don’t need a stat to demonstrate; we all know people who are addicted to pills. Have doctors become more careful in prescribing them? Not for me to say. Is it hard for anyone to get 200 doses of Xanax? Not really.
The list could go on and on… fast food, tanning beds, gambling, TV, caffeine… And what about Justin Bieber? Have I stopped stalking him even though it would get me arrested in every state besides Alaska (they have no laws)? NO!
So let’s say tomorrow the Surgeon General released a similar statement as the one Terry issued in 1964: the long term use of cell phones has a direct link to brain tumors. Why would our response be any different than it was for cigarettes? “Well, Diggles,” you say, “the reason is took so long for the cigarette ban is that cigarettes are addictive. People continued to smoke because they were addicted.”
A) That argument is not valid since how many generations of people started smoking despite knowing how bad cigarettes were for them.
B) Aren’t we addicted to cell phones too?
We were addicted to them even before every Tom, Dick and Shaniqua had a smartphone. Now that we can get emails, tweets, sports scores, podcasts, internet porn, and EVERYTHING on our phones, we cling to them like that freaky dude in Lord of the Rings. The Diggles just got his smartphone a year ago and he can’t walk down a block without checking his email or updating his Twitter feed. Heck, I can’t even fall asleep unless my phone is laying right next to me on the night stand.
And what about the children? I’m not usually one of these “look what the damn kids are doing these days” kind of guys since we were all once kids and we all did the things that kids were doing at the time when we were kids. Plus you just sound like a bitter old man when you say stuff like that. But isn’t it even more scary to think about how young kids are when they are exposed to cell phones? Frickin’ ten year olds have iPhones now!
I’m not going to get into the social and psychological implications of this since someone is probably writing a book on that already, but what if cell phones really are cancerous? Not only have we exposed young kids to deadly amounts of radiation, but now they are addicted to them too! A ten year old with an iPhone is not going to be able to just use a house phone line when they get older. That’s like growing up with an iPod and then having an 8-track player installed in your car when you get your license… ain’t happening.
So I guess we just have to hope that cell phones are actually ok, because if it takes us as long to break the habit of cell phone use as it did with cigarettes, we are all screwed, even the kids. Plus it is painful to imagine a world where I would have to be sitting in front of a computer screen to update my Facebook status. I mean really, who has that kind of time?
R. Diggles can be reached at RDiggles@GDPmagazine.com