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Telecom once invited me to attend a public meeting about the placement of a cellphone tower. They hoped that I, as someone who explains stuff for a living, would be able to help the good people of the area understand why having a cellphone tower wasn't going to end life as they knew it.
At one point I thought we were going to be lynched.
A sobbing mother held up her baby and shouted: "You're killing my child". An elderly gentleman suggested he was an oncology doctor and that cellphone disrupt the "blood-brain barrier" and were responsible for tumours in rats (it turns out he "worked in oncology" which, after some digging became "I pushed the trolley that carried the chemo bags"). One man turned out to be a real estate agent who was upset because the tower was in his sales area and he thought nobody would buy a home nearby (it's Auckland, mate. I think you'll be OK).
It's not as if it was a new tower, it simply replaced an older one that had been there for years, but so angry were the crowd, so adamant that there was no way they'd accept it, that the local MP agreed to take the matter up with the PM.
I have written articles about why cellphones don't give you cancer not, as some assume, because I'm paid for by the telcos (ha!) but because I see the benefits of cellphones (and now doubly so with smartphones) and have read the reports long enough to know there's no evidence of any problem healthwise, other than the occasional pulled tendon when you reach up with your thumb on those giant screens.
GPS, apps that help you administer CPR when you need to, "find your phone" [and the teenager that's supposed to have called you when they arrive safely] apps, EQNZ alerts, all of these things are enabled by the mobile device revolution and all of them help save lives and none of them would be possible if we banned radiation because some groups don't understand what the term actually means.
Wifi falls into the same category, thanks in no small part to a confused and misleading piece on the BBC show Panorama in 2007.
My old pal Peter Griffin at the Science Media Centre was taken to the Press Council for a piece he wrote about wifi and why it should be allowed in schools.
It's clearly a highly emotional subject which for many years has suffered from what I would call the Researcher's Conundrum. The science says there's nothing to worry about but every paper on the subject says (naturally) "but more research is needed". Scientists need research grants to carry on their research and so that's a natural addendum to most reports. In fact, the only time I've seen that not happen is in the UK's Mobile Telecommunications and Health Research Centre's report on why it was no longer studying cellphones and any connection with health matters: after 11 years they'd found nothing and didn't want to waste any more time or energy on the project.
An Australian study looking at brain cancers over the past 30 years has found a similar trend - there simply is no connection that they can attribute between brain cancers and cellphone use. There is a slight rise in brain cancers among males but not anywhere near the same rate you'd expect from the dramatic rise in cellphone use, and if there was a link why does it only appear in males and not females?
I've reached the point now where I don't even argue about it, I just nod and smile and wander away. Much like lucky rabbit's feet, touching wood or throwing spilt salt over your shoulder, the era of cellphones being a bogey man is passing into folklore and if you don't want to use one, feel free not to. The rest of us will get along quite all right without you.
Paul Brislen is news editor for the Institute of IT Professionals
Tune into NBR Radio’s Sunday Business with Andrew Patterson on Sunday morning, for analysis and feature-length interviews.