DO mobile phones contribute to cancer? I’m darned if I know, although last week I read numerous reports of yet another scientific study into the matter. This one, undertaken for the UK’s Health Protection Agency, found that there were no conclusive risks to brain function, or of cancer or infertility. However, it also pointed out that very little was known about the long-term effects, since the technology is relatively new, and therefore it was best if children in particular avoided "excessive" mobile phone use.
All of which, it seems to me, is the equivalent of saying: if you’re an optimist, take this as good news; if you’re a pessimist, carry on worrying; and if you’re a child, continue to plague your mother for a mobile phone so that she can then nag you not to over-use it when you finally get one.
What none of us seem willing to do, however, is restrict our reliance upon the technology: already, it is too powerful a national addiction. In just 15 years, it has hooked us as irrevocably as the smoking habit did our forefathers. Who would have imagined, 20 years ago, that there would ever be quite so much to say, so many tiny yet crucial decisions that required instantaneous, urgent conferral?
How did we fill the great, yawning stretch of our days, back in the decades when – to paraphrase Yeats – peace came dropping slow, before the era when messages and calls swept in at dawn like a swarm of angry wasps and buzzed late into the night.
It wouldn’t surprise me if mobile phones were indeed linked to cancer, that sibilant Gollum that lurks in modern life. Almost everything we are predisposed to enjoy is: cigarettes, alcohol, sex, sunshine, sausages, chips, biscuits and barbecues. But there are roughly 80 million mobile phones in Britain, and the market is not yet saturated.
I have never much liked talking for long on a mobile, because after a while it gives me a sore ear. I have one because it has become difficult to work and live without it, but I prefer to send texts. I used to hound my husband to use a wired landline when possible, lest he irradiate his thinking parts, but my droning admonitions became tedious even to me.
I plan to deny mobiles to my children for as long as possible, beyond the point when they have begun to hate me for it, but even now my daughter – just short of three years old – likes nothing better than to strut around chatting with fluent and convincing authority on a makeshift phone of inert plastic. As a mother, all I can imagine are their soft little skulls, being slowly warmed by radiation waves; as children, all they can see is the most obvious symbol of adult independence, throbbing knowingly in their hands.
People who still fret about mobiles and wireless technology, as I do, are mainly seen as swivel-eyed medieval peasants who understand nothing about technology and less about radiation. That might be right, but then one reads that France has banned mobile phones from primary schools and all related advertising targeted at children; Israel has passed legislation to ensure that all mobile phones come with a “cancer risk” health warning; and childhood brain cancers have doubled.
The “electro-smog” in which so many of us live is continuous and uncontrollable.