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Smartphones Irradiate the Thyroid: Is This a Cancer Risk?
USA Created: 17 Feb 2020
Thyroid cancer among women is skyrocketing all over the world - Incidence is growing faster than for any other cancer.

The reasons why remain elusive.

The prevailing view is that there’s been an “epidemic of diagnosis” —that is, overdiagnosis. But a consensus is growing that lifestyle or environmental risk factors are also at work. Obesity is currently the leading candidate.

Sweden's Michael Carlberg and Lennart Hardell think that smartphones may also be part of the problem. Smartphone antennas are at the bottom of the phone and when holding one up to the ear, the thyroid is directly exposed to RF/microwave radiation.

Newly released cancer statistics add urgency to resolving this question.

Read the full story, out today, in Microwave News.

Louis Slesin, PhD
Editor, Microwave News
Click here to view the source article.
Source: Microwave News, Louis Slesin, 17 Feb 2020

City Council Responds to Community, Adjusts 5G Regulations
USA Created: 13 Feb 2020
Dozens of Californians packed the Costa Mesa City Council chamber Tuesday night with homemade signs. They hugged. They cried. They beseeched the council to beware of potential health risks of 5G technology — which they fear will likely make its way to Costa Mesa once the council had updated its policies on wireless communication facilities.

In October, the council approved a set of changes in design guidelines for wireless technology boxes, and on Tuesday considered more changes to city regulations.

After nearly five hours of discussion, about 30 speakers and an impromptu closed session, the council offered some concessions for the concerned community members.

But for some members of the Costa Mesa Advocacy Group, a grassroots organization that opposes expansive infrastructure for small cell facilities, the allowances weren’t enough.

“We’ve spent hours and hours with our expert attorney to improve this ordinance and make it actually make sense. Staff continues to ignore them and act as a gatekeeper preventing any real material change from happening,” Costa Mesa Advocacy Group leader Alison Burchette said in an email Wednesday morning. “Thus making it so that [the City Council] had to try to bake a dang cake at midnight with a heap of ingredients.”

Most notably, the council, on a 6-1 vote, changed a requirement in the ordinance to make it so that small wireless communication facilities — which typically take the form of small boxes on street poles — must be 750 feet from other communication facilities of the same company. Some community members had asked to increase the originally proposed 500-foot separation to at least 1,000 feet.

The small cells can be 250 feet from facilities of other companies, and even closer in non-residential zones.

The council also changed a requirement that the Planning Commission had added two weeks earlier. Under the new ordinance, residents who opt in may receive an email every time a wireless provider applies to install a new small cell box, or any time a provider asks to swap out 4G technology for 5G. Members of the public had called for all applications to be publicly noticed.

The council kept some other measures that community members lamented, such as that small cells installed near residential properties must maintain a 25-foot distance. That’s not far enough away for many residents, who complained that close proximity to the sites can be harmful for people with electromagnetic sensitivity.

5G is a fifth-generation wireless network that is intended to increase internet speeds and provide more-reliable connections. But many residents in Orange County and throughout the state have expressed concerns with the technology, which activists feel could endanger public health because of the use of higher-frequency radio waves.

Several health professionals joined the Costa Mesa Advocacy Group in warning council members of potentially harmful effects of radio waves.

“Years ago, smoking was the thing to do,” said Charlie Fagenholz, a holistic chiropractic physician. “Looking back, if you knew then what you knew now, would you vote for or against it? We’re in the same boat with [electromagnetic] toxicity.”

Some residents recounted personal stories of struggling with health issues that they attributed to high exposure to electromagnetic frequencies. Some expressed concern about the potential effects of radio frequencies on children. Others thought small cells are ugly and would ruin Costa Mesa’s aesthetics. At several points, Mayor Katrina Foley asked members of the crowd to quiet their applause.

Tim Brown, a government-affairs manager for Crown Castle, a communications infrastructure provider, said small cells are needed to provide bandwidth and capacity that are not possible with current infrastructure.

“The reason why these sites are developed is because people want them to work,” Brown said. “We have to respond to those demands. … The way we do that is by developing the infrastructure we have here.”

Other representatives of telecommunication companies such as AT&T and Verizon thanked the council for their review and reminded the audience that the Federal Communications Commission has not determined that radio frequency emissions from wireless devices adversely affect human health.

“The weight of scientific evidence has not effectively linked exposure to radio frequency energy from mobile devices with any known health problems,” an FCC statement reads, citing research from the Food and Drug Administration and the World Health Organization.

Council members emphasized that they can only make incremental changes to the ordinance because their hands are tied by the federal government’s regulations.

Many guidelines for the infrastructure of wireless communication facilities are federally mandated, though cities have a little leeway in regulating their aesthetics. Federal law, for instance, prohibits local governments from regulating construction of wireless telecommunication facilities based on perceived health effects.

At the end of the night’s exchange about wireless communications that stretched past midnight, Councilman Allan Mansoor voted against the proposed changes.

“I like the direction that we’re going, but I believe it’s rushed,” Mansoor said. “After midnight, our votes aren’t always the best. … I think we can do better.”

His comment provoked a tense exchange with other council members who challenged him to suggest concrete ways to improve the ordinance.

“Staff has done a really good job of trying to get us through all the land mines and be able to try to balance all the interests of protecting the community and addressing the concerns that were made, as well as addressing the concerns of the telecommunications industry,” Foley said, “and then trying to do something in a space where we really don’t have a lot of jurisdiction given to us at all by the federal government.”

The council will take a second, final vote on the changes at a future meeting.
Click here to view the source article.
Source: Governing.com, Faith E. Pinho 07 Feb 2020

Scientists Sue FCC for Dismissing Studies Linking Cell Phone Radiation to Cancer
USA Created: 7 Feb 2020
A Nobel Prize-winning scientist has filed a lawsuit alleging the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) failed to update cellular phone and wireless radiofrequency (RF) radiation limits and cellular phone testing methods in over two decades. These failures, the plaintiffs contend, ignore “peer-reviewed scientific studies showing that radiation from cell phones and cell phone towers and transmitters is associated with severe health effects in humans, including cancer, DNA damage, damage to the reproductive organs, and brain damage (including memory problems).”

Law&Crime obtained an exclusive copy of the lawsuit from Nobel co-laureate Devra Davis, who currently serves as president of the Environmental Health Trust (EHT), the lead plaintiffs in the action.

”The FCC has for years failed to protect public health by relying on 24-year-old safety tests designed when phones were the size of a shoe and used by few,” Davis told Law&Crime via email. ”We filed this appeal in order to insist that the agency take full measure of the U.S. government and other scientific evidence that cellphone radiation can be harmful.”

Davis continued, noting the FCC’s hands-off approach to cell phone-related regulation over the last three presidential administrations.

”The agency has dismissed hundreds of scientific studies submitted to its inquiry on wireless radiation and the advice of the American Academy of Pediatrics, and others, without providing any rationale for doing so,” she said.

The lawsuit specifically accuses the FCC of violating the Administrative Procedure Act (APA) and is requesting an appeal of the agency’s prior order denying to revisit cellular phone standards. From the filing:

[The FCC] (1) has improperly terminated a Notice of Inquiry begun in 2013 to review, update, and amend its emission exposure limits for radiofrequency (RF) radiation emitted by telecommunications devices and facilities, including but not limited to cell phones and cell phone towers and transmitters; (2) has improperly revised the criteria for determining when a licensee is exempt from its RF exposure evaluation criteria and the methods that RF equipment operators can use to mitigate the risk of excess exposure to the public and to workers; and (3) has improperly denied a petition for reconsideration of the [FCC’s] finding, and otherwise improperly rejected public comments, that the pinnae (outer ears) should be treated like other extremities for purposes of determining compliance with the RF emission exposure limits.

“The [FCC’s prior] Order exceeds the [FCC’s] statutory authority and poses significant risks to the public health, safety, and security,” the filing continues.

The plaintiffs’ attorney Edward Myers slammed the FCC’s prior decision in comments to Law&Crime.

“The FCC’s order terminated an inquiry into the adequacy of existing health and safety standards for radiofrequency radiation from wireless devices and facilities, including cell phones and cell phone towers and transmitters,” he said. “The existing regulations were promulgated in 1996 based on scientific data from 1992 and the FCC had commenced the inquiry in 2013 after the General Accounting Office (GAO) issued a report finding that the existing standards may be based on outdated science and may need to be updated.”

Myers continued, clarifying the relief sought:

In challenging the FCC’s decision, the petitioners contend that the agency has unlawfully disregarded a large body of evidence in violation of the Administrative Procedure Act and the National Environmental Policy Act, among others. This evidence includes numerous peer-reviewed scientific studies showing that radiation from cell phones and cell phone towers and transmitters is associated with severe health effects in humans, including cancer, DNA damage, damage to the reproductive organs, and brain damage (including memory problems). The petitioners are seeking to have the court remand the matter to the FCC so that it can complete the inquiry into its standards based on current science.

Davis went on to compare the lax regulatory environment to the state of affairs between U.S. administrative agencies and the powerhouse automobile industry until a consumer push—and concurrent litigation—led by Ralph Nader led to a series of meaningful reforms in the 1980s.

“Unlike France and Israel, many Americans are ignorant of the fact that phones are two-way microwave radios that are tested while held inches away from the body. Safety advice is also hidden within operating systems about keeping devices away from the abdomen of pregnant women or children,” Davis said. “Just like cars in the 1970s, we need the equivalent of airbags and seatbelts, that have saved millions of lives, to ensure hardware and software operate at the lowest feasible levels and protect billions of children and others using wireless radiating devices that comply with outmoded standards.”

“The FCC is ignoring the recommendation of our nation’s largest organization of children’s doctors—the American Academy of Pediatrics,” EHT Executive Director Theodora Scarato told Law&Crime—noting that the physician-led group “asked the FCC to test phones the way we use them—in positions against the body—and the FCC said it was unnecessary.”

Law&Crime reached out to the FCC for comment and will update this space if we receive one.
Click here to view the source article.
Source: Law & Crime, Colin Kalmbacher, 04 Feb 2020

The 'race to 5G' is a myth
USA Created: 7 Feb 2020
Telecommunications providers relentlessly extol the power of fifth-generation (5G) wireless technology. Government officials and policy advocates fret that the winner of the "5G race" will dominate the internet of the future, so America cannot afford to lose out. Pundits declare that 5G will revolutionize the digital world. It all sounds very thrilling. Unfortunately, the hype has gone too far.
5G systems will, over time, replace today's 4G, just as next year's iPhone 12 will improve on this year's 11. 5G networks offer significantly greater transmission capacity. However, despite all the hype, they won't represent a radical break from the current mobile experience.

First of all, the "race to 5G" is a myth. 5G is a marketing term for a family of technologies, which carriers can stretch to cover a variety of networks. The technical standards are still under development, so what counts as "true" 5G is arguable. As with 4G, the 5G rollout will take years, as carriers upgrade their networks with new gear and users buy new phones. Just as they do today, connections will fall back to slower speeds when users aren't near enough to a tower, or if the network is overloaded. There's no magic moment when a carrier, or a nation, "has" 5G.

Even if there was a race, it's over: South Korea and China have already built much more extensive 5G networks than the United States. But that shouldn't be cause for panic. Customers in those countries may have a leg up on faster connections, but that doesn't necessarily create a sustainable strategic advantage. Romania is one of 10 countries with significantly faster average fixed broadband connections than America today, yet no one in Washington seems concerned that will give Romanian firms a dominant advantage. The major tech platforms delivering innovative digital services to the world are still based in the United States and China. There are important concerns about the Chinese networking firm Huawei creating backdoors for surveillance or tilting the carrier equipment market toward Chinese-defined standards. Your 5G user experience, however, won't depend on who makes the gear in the guts of the network.

The overheated rhetoric is based on the misconception that 5G heralds a new era of services for end-users. In reality, the claimed performance — hundreds of megabits or even gigabits per second — is misleading. Averages and ideal numbers mask huge variations depending on distance to an antenna, obstructions, weather and other factors. The fastest speeds require "millimeter wave" spectrum, which doesn't penetrate walls or foliage well, and is generally less reliable than the lower frequencies used today. Millimeter wave requires a much denser network of antennas, which could be cost-prohibitive outside dense urban areas. Even if that hurdle is overcome, a gigabit per second to millions of phones requires a network able to move traffic at that speed end-to-end, which doesn't exist today.

And just what are the applications that need more capacity than 4G offers? We already get crystal-clear video chats, a torrent of TikToks, Pokemon Go augmented reality, and massive Fortnite battles. Yes, every advance in network performance opened up new uses that seemed insignificant before, but the new capabilities of 5G are best suited to non-consumer applications.
If and when fleets of self-driving vehicles communicate constantly with each other or remote robotic surgery is a standard feature in local hospitals, 5G will be a must. But these next-generation "internet of things" scenarios are years in the future, as are the kinds of virtual and augmented reality worlds that appear in science fiction.

The most immediate use of 5G is "network slicing" to rapidly deploy and reconfigure specialized networks for financial, health care and other applications. Enterprises that need quality of service guarantees can access a virtual "slice" of capacity, rather than building a separate network. It's a big deal for carriers and large companies. Not so sexy for ordinary consumers.

When we look back from 2030, the changes in the digital world will be dramatic. The 5G platform will support those changes, just as 2G, 3G, and 4G wireless did in prior decades. However, the heralded innovations of 2019 to 2021 will seem insignificant.
Enjoy your new 5G phone when it arrives. Just don't expect it to bring you to wireless nirvana.
Click here to view the source article.
Source: CNN Business Perspectives, Kevin Werbach, 03 Feb 2020

First 5G Global Protest: Worldwide News Coverage
USA Created: 28 Jan 2020
Go to the source link below to find links to global media coverage of Stop 5G protests.
Click here to view the source article.
Source: SaferEMR, Joel M. Moskowitz, 27 Jan 2020

Thyroid Cancer, Genetic Variations, and Cell Phones Linked in New Yale School of Public Health Study
USA Created: 20 Jan 2020
Radiation from cell phones is associated with higher rates of thyroid cancer among people with genetic variations in specific genes, a new study led by the Yale School of Public Health finds.

The researchers examined over 900 people in Connecticut and found that those with certain single nucleotide polymorphisms (genetic variations commonly referred to as SNPs and pronounced as “snips”) were significantly more likely to develop cancer in their thyroid, a gland in the throat that controls metabolism.

Cell phone users with SNPs in four of the genes studied were more than two times likely to develop cancer. The researchers examined a total of 176 genes and identified 10 SNPs that appear to increase the risk of thyroid cancer among cell phone users.

Published in the journal Environmental Research, the study is believed to be the first to examine the combined influence of genetic susceptibility and cell phone use in relation to thyroid cancer.

“Our study provides evidence that genetic susceptibility influences the relationship between cell phone use and thyroid cancer,” said Yawei Zhang, M.D., Ph.D., a professor in the Department of Environmental Health Sciences at the Yale School of Public Health. “More studies are needed to identify populations who are susceptible to radiofrequency radiation (RFR) and understand exposure to RFR by different using patterns of cell phones.”

Our study provides evidence that genetic susceptibility influences the relationship between cell phone use and thyroid cancer.
- Yawei Zhang

The findings suggest that genetic susceptibilities play an important role in cell phone use and the risk of developing thyroid cancer and could help to identify subgroups who are potentially at risk. Further research is needed to confirm the findings and to better understand the interaction between cell phone radiation and SNPs within specific genes.

The rates of thyroid cancer have been steadily increasing in the United States and in many other parts of the world, Zhang said. According to the American Cancer Society’s most recent report, there were nearly 53,000 new cases of thyroid cancer in the United States, resulting in 2,180 deaths. Thyroid cancer is three times more common in women and is diagnosed at a younger age than most other cancers.

Zhang noted that the study relied on data collected from 2010 to 2011 when smartphones were first being introduced to the market. At the time, only a small proportion of people had smart phones. Therefore, if cell phone use increased the risk of thyroid cancer, it was possibly due to the use of earlier generation cell phones that were more commonly used when the data was collected.

Additionally, the transition to smartphones has also seen a major change in how cell phones are used (e.g., texting vs. phone calls). As a result, findings from this current study warrant a further evaluation in future studies, she said.

Other Yale School of Public Health researchers involved in the study include Jiajun Luo, Hang Li, Nicole Deziel, Huang Huang and Shuangge Ma. Researchers from China and Florida also co-authored the study.
Click here to view the source article.
Source: Yale School of Medicine, Sayuri Gavaskar, 17 Jan 2020

NTP Scientists Endorse Precaution
USA Created: 17 Jan 2020
First Federal Officials To Take a Stand on Cell Phone Safety.

Earlier this week an Italian court of appeals in Turin affirmed a decision to compensate a man who charged that he had developed a tumor after using a mobile phone. In its write-up, the U.K. Guardian quoted the Italian health minister saying that the court had made a mistake because there is no proof to support such a link.

Huh? Once again the findings of the $30 million animal study by the U.S. National Toxicology Program showing "clear evidence" of a cancer risk are being ignored —by the Italian minister and the Guardian reporter. The NTP study may not constitute "proof," but it shows that simple denial cannot be justified.

Part of the problem has been with the NTP scientists themselves. They have shown ambivalence about their own findings, allowing others to make up their own narratives.

That has now changed.

NTP scientists have revealed that they are taking precautions to minimize their radiation exposures from cell phones.

Read about this important development in our latest story:
https://microwavenews.com/short-takes-archive/ntp-endorses-precaution

Louis Slesin, PhD
Editor, Microwave News
Click here to view the source article.
Source: Microwave News, Louis Slesin, 17 Jan 2020

Health concerns should slow rollout of 5G wireless: opinion
USA Created: 3 Jan 2020
5G is the new generation of wireless communication, which sounds friendly enough. It is currently being rolled out globally, and includes over 20,000 satellites, and up to a million cell towers with antennas. The FCC — which unfortunately is controlled by the same industries it is supposed to watch — is not requiring the telecom companies to do any safety research whatsoever. Meanwhile literally hundreds of peer-reviewed research studies show that radiation from EMF (3G, 4G, wireless, etc.) contribute to or directly cause cancer, Alzheimer’s and many other diseases. 5G will add yet more frequencies of radiation to this electrosmog.

It is so dangerous that Clair Edwards, former UN official, calls this 5G rollout a “crime against humanity.” Martin Pall, a renowned scientist who has researched 5G and wireless radiation exhaustingly, says that “no rational society would do this.” We need to ask: Why is 5G so important? What is the hurry to roll out 5G? Why are we doing this with no safety research? Why are there no mainstream news about the risks and research? What about the data mining and surveillance concerns?

In the U.S., there are currently over 100 lawsuits against the FCC and telecom companies, and globally, 5G concerns are rising, with Belgium being the first country to block 5G. There are very powerful, vested interests with dollar and data mining goals that need to be exposed, so let’s stop this hurried 5G rollout. Please know that we already have a safe solution and alternative: hard-wired fiber optic, ideally locally owned and controlled.

Roy Holman

Everett
Click here to view the source article.
Source: Herald Net, Roy Holman, 01 Jan 2020

California Supreme Court Incommodes Wireless Access to Rights of Way
USA Created: 27 Dec 2019
California Supreme Court held that municipalities may consider aesthetics when granting wireless installation permits.

Amidst the ongoing power struggle between communications service providers striving for unfettered access to rights-of-way to place their facilities, and municipalities working to protect their authority over such rights-of-way, local governments retained a measure of control over the deployment of wireless equipment in their rights-of-way when the California Supreme Court held that municipalities may consider aesthetics when granting wireless installation permits.

T-Mobile (along with other wireless service providers such as NextG Networks and ExteNet Systems), challenged a San Francisco ordinance conditioning access to public rights-of-way on aesthetic considerations. In particular, the City’s ordinance No. 12-11 regulated the construction, installation, and maintenance of wireless equipment in order to prevent the placement of equipment in a manner that would “diminish the City’s beauty,” and required heightened aesthetic review in certain areas.

The companies argued that the ordinance was preempted by the state’s telecommunications franchising statute (California Public Utilities Code Section 7901), which grants telecommunications companies the right to deploy equipment along public rights-of-way in California as long as they do not “incommode” public use. The companies maintained that the term “incommode” referred only to the obstruction of travel, and thus did not permit local aesthetics-based regulation. They also argued that the ordinance violated the nondiscrimination prohibitions of California Public Utilities Code Section 7901.1, which requires local governments to exercise their “time, place, and manner” regulation of road access on “all entities in an equivalent manner.” In particular, they asserted that the ordinance violated the nondiscrimination requirements by applying the aesthetic requirements only to wireless providers, and not to other telecommunications companies accessing the rights-of-way.
Preemption

The California Supreme Court upheld the ordinance, first ruling it was not preempted by Section 7901. In doing so, the Court made clear that the state franchising requirements of Section 7901 and the local police powers held by the City could work in “harmony.”

The Court reasoned that while that Section 7901 prohibits localities from requiring communications providers to obtain a local franchise (which would grant service providers the authority to offer service in a local jurisdiction), the Court ruled that the City nonetheless retained local police power to regulate appropriate land use, including the establishment of aesthetic conditions for such land use. This authority did not amount to the power to require a local franchise, but rather constituted the power to require a permit. While denial of a (prohibited) local franchise would “completely bar” wireless operations within a city, denial of a valid permit “would simply prevent construction of lines in the proposed manner at the proposed location.” The Court also noted that the Public Utilities Commission, the state’s primary regulatory authority over utilities, has a “default policy…of deference to municipalities in matters concerning the design and location of wireless facilities” unless local decisions clearly contradict the Commission’s statewide goals (such as the widespread deployment of high quality and reliable service across the state).

With respect to whether the ordinance’s use of the term “incommode” encompassed aesthetic conditions, the Court stated instead that the more relevant question was whether Section 7901 was intended to divest the City of its inherent power to regulate land use. The Court ruled there was no indication that the state intended Section 7901 to do so, and that without a “clear indication of preemptive intent,” a state statute would not deprive local governments of power in areas over which they have “traditionally exercised control,” such as the “power of controlling location and manner of installation.”

Nevertheless, the Court found the term “incommode” to have a much broader meaning akin to “disturb” or “give inconvenience to,” and not merely referring to the obstruction of travel. Thus, the City’s use of the ordinance to regulate aesthetics was appropriate under Section 7901.
Nondiscrimination

The Court also ruled that the ordinance did not violate Section 7901.1’s nondiscrimination requirements. In doing so, the Court first observed that the City required short-term, temporary permits of all utilities (including both wireline and wireless communications companies) accessing public rights-of-way for the purpose of initial construction and installation of facilities (the process for which did not require the review of aesthetic considerations). The Court also observed that the City required long-term permits for the permanent occupancy of equipment installed in the rights-of-way – a process that did include the review of aesthetic considerations, and only applied to wireless companies (whose facilities tend to remain prominently visible in the rights-of-way after installation).

Looking to the state statute’s legislative history, the Court found that Section 7901.1 was limited to temporary access permits controlling time, place, and manner restrictions (which the parties had all stipulated during trial were applied equally to all companies by the City), and that it was reasonable that a municipality would control the time, place, and manner of initial temporary access to the rights-of-way, while regulating the longer-term permanent impacts that might “incommode” access to the public rights-of-way under Section 7901.
Broader Implications and Limitations

This decision clarified the bounds of local control over wireless facilities deployment in the face of state and federal regulations. Under the ruling, cities may regulate the long-term effects of wireless deployments, and service providers should thus keep in mind that local governments can delay deployments that do not meet aesthetic standards. Further, municipalities may take into account a wide range of considerations beyond aesthetics under the “incommode” language of Section 7901, including noise, public health and safety, and other similar concerns.

The decision may also be of interest to other state franchisees. By confirming that Section 7901.1 applies only to temporary access in public rights-of-way (for the installation of communications facilities), and rooting the power to impose aesthetic regulations in preemption considerations and the broader language of Section 7901, the opinion also has important implications for the application of California’s Digital Infrastructure and Video Competition Act of 2006 (“DIVCA,” under which video service providers such as cable operators are granted statewide franchises giving them authority to access the state’s rights-of-way and to provide video service). In particular, while DIVCA Section 5840(a) prohibits local entities from requiring state video franchise holders to “obtain a separate franchise or otherwise impose any requirement on any holder of a state franchise except as expressly provided,” DIVCA Section 5885 incorporates Section 7901.1, meaning local authority to impose time, place, and manner restrictions would be limited to temporary access for installation purposes (and not access for the long-term placement of wireless facilities). However, because DIVCA specifically references Section 7901.1, and not Section 7901, state video franchise holders would not be subject to the more extensive “incommode” standards that could be read into Section 7901.

The case is T-Mobile West LLC et al. v. City and County of San Francisco et al., 6 Cal. 5th 1107 (2019).
Click here to view the source article.
Source: National Law Review, W. Ray Rutngamlug, 20 Dec 2019

I asked my students to turn in their cell phones and write about living without them.
USA Created: 27 Dec 2019
"- a young woman put up her hand and said: “We don’t understand what the books say, sir - We don’t understand the words".

A few years ago, I performed an experiment in a philosophy class I was teaching. My students had failed a midterm test rather badly. I had a hunch that their pervasive use of cell phones and laptops in class was partly responsible. So I asked them what they thought had gone wrong. After a few moments of silence, a young woman put up her hand and said: “We don’t understand what the books say, sir. We don’t understand the words.” I looked around the class and saw guileless heads pensively nodding in agreement.

I extemporized a solution: I offered them extra credit if they would give me their phones for nine days and write about living without them. Twelve students—about a third of the class—took me up on the offer. What they wrote was remarkable, and remarkably consistent. These university students, given the chance to say what they felt, didn’t gracefully submit to the tech industry and its devices.

The usual industry and education narrative about cell phones, social media, and digital technology generally is that they build community, foster communication, and increase efficiency, thus improving our lives. Mark Zuckerberg’s recent reformulation of Facebook’s mission statement is typical: the company aims to “give people the power to build community and bring the world closer together.”

Without their phones, most of my students initially felt lost, disoriented, frustrated, and even frightened. That seemed to support the industry narrative: look how disconnected and lonely you’ll be without our technology. But after just two weeks, the majority began to think that their cell phones were in fact limiting their relationships with other people, compromising their own lives, and somehow cutting them off from the “real” world. Here is some of what they said.

“You must be weird or something”

“Believe it or not, I had to walk up to a stranger and ask what time it was. It honestly took me a lot of guts and confidence to ask someone,” Janet wrote. (Her name, like the others here, is a pseudonym.) She describes the attitude she was up against: “Why do you need to ask me the time? Everyone has a cell phone. You must be weird or something.” Emily went even further. Simply walking by strangers “in the hallway or when I passed them on the street” caused almost all of them to take out a phone “right before I could gain eye contact with them.”

To these young people, direct, unmediated human contact was experienced as ill-mannered at best and strange at worst. James: “One of the worst and most common things people do nowadays is pull out their cell phone and use it while in a face-to-face conversation. This action is very rude and unacceptable, but yet again, I find myself guilty of this sometimes because it is the norm.” Emily noticed that “a lot of people used their cell phones when they felt they were in an awkward situation, for an example [sic] being at a party while no one was speaking to them.”

The price of this protection from awkward moments is the loss of human relationships, a consequence that almost all the students identified and lamented. Without his phone, James said, he found himself forced to look others in the eye and engage in conversation. Stewart put a moral spin on it. “Being forced to have [real relations with people] obviously made me a better person because each time it happened I learned how to deal with the situation better, other than sticking my face in a phone.” Ten of the 12 students said their phones were compromising their ability to have such relationships.

Virtually all the students admitted that ease of communication was one of the genuine benefits of their phones. However, eight out of 12 said they were genuinely relieved not to have to answer the usual flood of texts and social-media posts. Peter: “I have to admit, it was pretty nice without the phone all week. Didn’t have to hear the fucking thing ring or vibrate once, and didn’t feel bad not answering phone calls because there were none to ignore.”

Indeed, the language they used indicated that they experienced this activity almost as a type of harassment. “It felt so free without one and it was nice knowing no one could bother me when I didn’t want to be bothered,” wrote William. Emily said that she found herself “sleeping more peacefully after the first two nights of attempting to sleep right away when the lights got shut off.” Several students went further and claimed that communication with others was in fact easier and more efficient without their phones. Stewart: “Actually I got things done much quicker without the cell because instead of waiting for a response from someone (that you don’t even know if they read your message or not) you just called them [from a land line], either got an answer or didn’t, and moved on to the next thing.”

Technologists assert that their instruments make us more productive. But for the students, phones had the opposite effect. “Writing a paper and not having a phone boosted productivity at least twice as much,” Elliott claimed. “You are concentrated on one task and not worrying about anything else. Studying for a test was much easier as well because I was not distracted by the phone at all.” Stewart found he could “sit down and actually focus on writing a paper.” He added, “Because I was able to give it 100% of my attention, not only was the final product better than it would have been, I was also able to complete it much quicker.” Even Janet, who missed her phone more than most, admitted, “One positive thing that came out of not having a cell phone was that I found myself more productive and I was more apt to pay attention in class.”

Some students felt not only distracted by their phones, but morally compromised. Kate: “Having a cell phone has actually affected my personal code of morals and this scares me … I regret to admit that I have texted in class this year, something I swore to myself in high school that I would never do … I am disappointed in myself now that I see how much I have come to depend on technology … I start to wonder if it has affected who I am as a person, and then I remember that it already has.” And James, though he says we must continue to develop our technology, said that “what many people forget is that it is vital for us not to lose our fundamental values along the way.”

Other students were worried that their cell-phone addiction was depriving them of a relationship to the world. Listen to James: “It is almost like the earth stood still and I actually looked around and cared about current events ... This experiment has made many things clear to me and one thing is for sure, I am going to cut back the time I am on my cell phone substantially.”

Stewart said he began to see how things “really work” once he was without his phone: “One big thing I picked up on while doing this assignment is how much more engaged I was in the world around me … I noticed that the majority of people were disengaged … There is all this potential for conversation, interaction, and learning from one another but we’re too distracted by the screens … to partake in the real events around us.”
In parentis, loco

Some parents were pleased with their children’s phone-less selves. James said his mother “thought it was great that I did not have my phone because I paid more attention to her while she was talking.” One parent even proposed to join in the experiment.

But for some of the students, phones were a lifeline to their parents. As Karen Fingerman of the University of Texas at Austin wrote in a 2017 article in the journal Innovation in Aging, in the mid to late 20th century, “only half of [American] parents reported contact with a grown child at least once a week.” By contrast, she writes, recent studies find that “nearly all” parents of young adults were in weekly contact with their children, and over half were in daily contact by phone, by text message, or in person.

Emily wrote that without her cell phone, “I felt like I was craving some interaction from a family member. Either to keep my ass in line with the upcoming exams, or to simply let me know someone is supporting me.” Janet admitted, “The most difficult thing was defiantly [sic] not being able to talk to my mom or being able to communicate with anyone on demand or at that present moment. It was extremely stressful for my mom.”

Safety was also a recurrent theme. Janet said, “Having a cell phone makes me feel secure in a way. So having that taken away from me changed my life a little. I was scared that something serious might happen during the week of not having a cell phone.” And she wondered what would have happened “if someone were to attack me or kidnap me or some sort of action along those lines or maybe even if I witnessed a crime take place, or I needed to call an ambulance.”

What’s revealing is that this student and others perceived the world to be a very dangerous place. Cell phones were seen as necessary to combat that danger. The city in which these students lived has one of the lowest crime rates in the world and almost no violent crime of any kind, yet they experienced a pervasive, undefined fear.
Live in fragments no longer

My students’ experience of cell phones and the social-media platforms they support may not be exhaustive, or statistically representative. But it is clear that these gadgets made them feel less alive, less connected to other people and to the world, and less productive. They also made many tasks more difficult and encouraged students to act in ways they considered unworthy of themselves. In other words, phones didn’t help them. They harmed them.

I first carried out this exercise in 2014. I repeated it last year in the bigger, more urban institution where I now teach. The occasion this time wasn’t a failed test; it was my despair over the classroom experience in its entirety. I want to be clear here—this is not personal. I have a real fondness for my students as people. But they’re abysmal students; or rather, they aren’t really students at all, at least not in my class. On any given day, 70% of them are sitting before me shopping, texting, completing assignments, watching videos, or otherwise occupying themselves. Even the “good” students do this. No one’s even trying to conceal the activity, the way students did before. This is just what they do.

What’s changed? Most of what they wrote in the assignment echoed the papers I’d received in 2014. The phones were compromising their relationships, cutting them off from real things, and distracting them from more important matters. But there were two notable differences. First, for these students, even the simplest activities—getting on the bus or train, ordering dinner, getting up in the morning, even knowing where they were—required their cell phones. As the phone grew more ubiquitous in their lives, their fear of being without it seemed to grow apace. They were jittery, lost, without them.

This may help to explain the second difference: compared with the first batch, this second group displayed a fatalism about phones. Tina’s concluding remarks described it well: “Without cell phones life would be simple and real but we may not be able to cope with the world and our society. After a few days I felt alright without the phone as I got used to it. But I guess it is only fine if it is for a short period of time. One cannot hope to compete efficiently in life without a convenient source of communication that is our phones.” Compare this admission with the reaction of Peter, who a few months after the course in 2014 tossed his smartphone into a river.

I think my students are being entirely rational when they “distract” themselves in my class with their phones. They understand the world they are being prepared to enter much better than I do. In that world, I’m the distraction, not their phones or their social-media profiles or their networking. Yet for what I’m supposed to be doing—educating and cultivating young hearts and minds—the consequences are pretty dark.

Paula was about 28, a little older than most students in the class. She’d returned to college with a real desire to learn after working for almost a decade following high school. I’ll never forget the morning she gave a presentation to a class that was even more alternatively engaged than usual. After it was all over, she looked at me in despair and said, simply: “How in the world do you do this?”
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Source: Technology Review, Ron Srigley, 26 Dec 2019

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