It’s undeniable: mobile phones are killing us


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 Jamshedpur,28  Nov : Take your hand off it for a moment. Please. Hard to do, I know. The damn thing is the bane of my existence as well. It's like being the better half of an evil siamese twin. No matter where you go it's always with you, nagging, nudging, distracting and, even worse, playing with your mind.

So we'll make this as short and to the point as possible. The modern mobile phone has only been with us for little more than two decades but it has already become the first invention in more than 600 years that we carry with us everywhere.

As Jon Agar, an English professor of science and technology has pointed out, clothing and shoes were the first essentials of daily life and they were devised – presumably very quickly – in the Palaeolithic era.

Keys and money came to us courtesy of the Neolithic age (at about the same time as your father's jokes were being written, along with the television program guides for commercial digital channels). And glasses were a medieval contraption.

But for something that has quickly become so ubiquitous and so necessary that a medical term – nomophobia – has been coined to describe the anxiety felt by a user who has lost their phone or is out of mobile range, we still don't know with absolute certainty whether the device that has proved on countless occasions to be a life saver also has the ability to kill us.

The scientific evidence, at least when it comes to what happens when we hold our phones close to our ears – suggests it cannot. Dozens of reputable studies have failed to turn up any evidence that radio frequency energy – unlike ionising radiation associated with nuclear fallout – causes any DNA damage in humans that triggers cancer.



One of the most recent studies was unveiled this year by Professor Simon Chapman and colleagues at the University of Sydney. It examined the potential association of brain cancer with the meteoric rise in use of the mobile phone in Australia. About 36,000 cases of brain tumours in men and women were compared with mobile phone usage from 1987 through to 2012. The finding? Nothing suggests brain cancer rates are increasing – a conclusion mirroring many other studies from around the world.

But in a world where conspiracy theories thrive despite so much available data, a lobby of baying voices continues claiming that mobile phone companies are the new Big Tobacco.

We should know outright within the next decade if they are on to something because the effects of radiation sometimes take four or five decades to be borne out. But there is a safety issue around mobile phones taking place right now that is already having a profound impact on the health of us all.

Statistics emerged this week that almost a third of car accidents in Sydney involve nose-to-tail incidents. Surely a significant number of those prangs were caused by driver distraction. Now what might that culprit be?

How many times have you sat patiently in your car waiting for the lights to change, only to discover the lead car continues to sit there unmoving, long after the lights have turned green, because they are reading or sending a text message or email? How many times have you seen a pedestrian amble across a street, ear cocked to phone or, even worse, with ear plugs or bluetooth devices blocking their ability to hear oncoming traffic?

God knows we don't need any more government-funded public awareness campaigns to tell us what common sense should already dictate, or even more rules and penalties to make navigating our congested and anger-filled motorways all the more difficult.

But from what you see on the roads every day – backed up the latest statistics and against a backdrop of a suddenly surging road toll – clearly we need to make it more uncomfortable for drivers who think watching YouTube videos or perusing their Facebook feeds in peak traffic is the new norm.

Using a phone illegally while driving overtook not wearing a seatbelt as a leading cause of fatal crashes in NSW several years ago. So how about this for a solution.

Use it while you're at the wheel and you lose it. Let's say a seven-day confiscation of your mobile for the first offence. A month for the second. For most of us a day without our mobile is a life sentence anyway.

We still have decades before the driverless car is commonplace so we're going to have to think of new ways to stop people from always putting their hand on it. But as we know in modern society, there are a lot of us who just can't help ourselves.

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