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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

The Court of Appeal of Turin confirms the link between a head tumour and mobile phone use
Italy Created: 17 Jan 2020
The Court of Appeal of Turin confirms in a full judgment published on 13 January 2020 (904/2019 of 3-12-2019 , Romeo v. INAIL) the decision of the Tribunal of Ivrea of 2017. Judge Fadda considers that the worker’s acoustic neuroma (benign tumour of the head) was indeed caused by the use of the mobile phone.

According to the Court:

“there is protective scientific jurisprudence that supports the assertion of causation based on criteria of “more likely than not”. P.33.”

And to add:

“Epidemiological data, the results of experiments on animals (not contradicted, at present, by other experiments of the same type), the duration and intensity of exposure … which are particularly important in view of the dose-response relationship established – at the scientific level – between exposure to mobile phone radiofrequencies and the risk of acoustic neuroma, as well as the absence of any other factor which could have caused the disease”.

The scientific analysis by independent experts appointed by the Court confirms the causal link

All the scientific elements of the case were re-examined and re-analysed by two new experts appointed by the Court of Turin (Carolina Marino, Angelo D’Errico). The Court of Appeal fully accepted their conclusions and rejected INAIL’s* appeal, stating that CTU had provided:

“strong evidence to assert a causal role between the complainant’s occupational exposure, his exposure to radiation from mobile phones and the disease that occurred”.

This is the second Italian appeal judgment in favour of a worker after the Brescia judgment in 2010, which concluded with the confirmation of the Supreme Court in 2012, case of Marcolini v. INAIL. In this case, the Court of Bergamo had rejected the application in first instance.
A landmark judgment that will have international repercussions

The Romeo v. INAIL case is therefore historic. It is the first in world judicial history to have had two consecutive judgments in favour of the plaintiff. It is also historic because of the principles underlying this decision and particularly because it is written about the conflicts of interest of certain experts close to the mobile phone industry.
Conflicts of interest and the role of the ICNIRP pinpointed by the Tribunal

Indeed, the Tribunal recognizes that telephone industry-funded scientists, or members of the ICNIRP, are less reliable than independent scientists:

“Much of the scientific literature that excludes carcinogenicity from RF exposure, or at least argues that research to the contrary cannot be considered conclusive… is in a position of conflict of interest, which is not always asserted: see, in particular, on page 94 of the report, the Applicant’s defence (not contested by the other party) that the authors of the studies indicated by INAIL, who are mentioned by name, are members of ICNIRP and/or SCENIHR, which have received, directly or indirectly, funding from industry. P. 33.”

The Turin CTU states:

“It is considered that less weight should be given to studies published by authors who have not declared the existence of conflicts of interest. In this case, conflict of interest situations may arise in relation to the assessment of the effect of radio frequencies on health, for example :
1. cases where the author of the study advised the telephone industry or received funding for studies from the telephone industry
2. if the author himself is a member of the ICNIRP.”

For Dr. Marc Arazi, President of Phonegate Alert:

“Attorney Stefano Bertone’s determined fight to defend the victims of overexposure to our mobile phone waves and the consequences for their health is exemplary. He was one of the first lawyers to take the measure of the revelations linked to the Phonegate scandal. A year ago, together with his law firm and the Italian association APPEL, he and his firm condemned the Italian government to launch major information campaigns on the risks associated with the use of mobile phones. This new decision is all the more important and confirm the need for a moratorium on the deployment of 5G”.

*Istituto Nazionale per l’Assicurazione contro gli Infortuni sul Lavoro
Click here to view the source article.
Source: PhoneGate Alert, 15 Jan 2020

Planners refuse 5G phone mast upgrade with 'perception of health effects' raised
United Kingdom Created: 15 Jan 2020
A plan to upgrade a phone mast site for the 5G network at the entrance to a holiday park at Paignton has been refused.

Torbay’s planning committee voted against the application because of the visual impact and perception of health effects of the technology which the park owners warned could damage the business.

The application on behalf of EE and Three was to replace a 13.5m pole with one 20m high and six replacement cabinets.

They wanted to put the new pole and equipment on the opposite side of road from the current installation at the entrance to the Beverley Holidays park in Goodrington Road.

The family-owned business objected to the plan and feared the “eyesore” new mast would put off visitors who might be concerned about the possible health effects of the 5G technology.

Councillors deferred a decision in November for other locations to be considered.

Members of the committee were told on Monday that the developer had rejected four alternative sites.

But they had agreed that the cabinets would be coloured green and the mast would be mostly brown to match telegraph poles.

Claire Flower, a director of Beverley Holidays, objected to the plans and said the owners were extremely concerned about the “detrimental effects” on the business of the large installation at the entrance to the holiday park.

She said the “imposing structure” would be an “absolute eyesore” and there was a concern about the perception of customers, as well as the potential for another increase in the size of the installation in the future.

Ms Flower said the site hosted up to 2,000 people at peak times, mostly families with young children.

Councillors were told that the health effects of the technology were not something they could take into account, but they could consider people’s perceptions and fears of 5G technology, although it would be given low weight at an appeal.

They were told the new installation would operate within international safety guidelines.

Conservative councillor Andrew Barrand said he was disappointed the developer had not been able to agree on one of the alternatives offered and appeared to be behaving “stubbornly”.

Independent Terry Manning said he was concerned that the mast might have an effect on visitors to the holiday park because of their fears of the health effects of 5G.

He said approving the application would set a precedent that developers could put new masts “wherever they want”.

Liberal Democrat Jack Dart said there was no evidence of harm to health and the technology was vital to develop the mobile network.

Liberal Democrat John Dudley said he would find it difficult to support a proposal that could harm a family business.

The committee voted five to four in favour of a proposal from Cllr Manning to reject the application.

The industry is rolling out the 5th generation of mobile phone technology promising faster downloads.

But the higher frequency signal does not travel as far so more base stations are needed and the masts are higher to avoid being blocked by buildings and trees.

Campaigners in Torbay have asked Torbay Council to pause the roll-out of the technology because of health concerns.

They say 5G technology has not been fully tested and studies on animals have shown a link to health effects including an increased risk of cancer.

Public Health England says years of studies of radio waves show the risk of damage to health is unlikely at exposure to levels below internationally agreed limits.
Click here to view the source article.
Source: Devon Live, Edward Oldfield, 14 Jan 2020

ICT Minister Masiu halts 5G trials amid health risk debate
Guinea Created: 14 Jan 2020
Communication and Information Technology Minister Timothy Masiu has put the 5G trial on halt.

After embracing its pre-launch, recently in Port Moresby between Bmobile and Huawei, this trial has stirred up debate in the ICT community regarding its health risks.

Following these debates, Mr Masiu has decided to ask Bmobile and it’s partner Huawei not to implement or start the trials until his department conducts an investigation and research into this new technology.

He made the call shortly after he was thoroughly briefed regarding the implications of the 5G technology.

He said experts in the industry have claimed that the high radiation from this technology because it will be built metres apart on buildings and streetlights can easily cause tissue damage to all living things.

Mr Masiu said that while he wishes to welcome new technology he also understands that new technologies often come with its risks but if they are comprehensively researched and understood, it can harnessed to have excellent applications and benefits for the people.

“I request for all operators particular Bmobile and Huawei to stop any progress on the 5G trial while the department of communication and information technology will administer a thorough research on 5G technology,” he said.

“This is to to include potential health risks of 5G and there will be a close consultation and validation with the Department of Health.
“I request KTHL to work closely with my department to undertake comprehensive awareness to key stakeholders and the public on 5G technology for all to understand its proven benefits and risks.

“I also request Bmobile to revisit its original plans on completing roll-out of 4G to the rural masses.”

Mr Masiu said he will also be writing to his colleague minister responsible for Public Enterprise regarding this matter.

He said moving ahead the ministry will focus on developing and implementing smart strategies particularly under the NICTA’s Access and Service Fund (UAS) to address the last mile and effectively increase connectivity to the population from 40 to 75 per cent.

“While I am stressing the importance to continuously explore new technology, my primary obligation is to focus on unceasing quality connectivity for the rural masses,” he said.
Click here to view the source article.
Source: Papa New-Guinea Post Courier, 02 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

Councils can't ban 5G mobile networks: blog
United Kingdom Created: 2 Jan 2020
This information applies to England only - Planning is a devolved matter in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, where the position may vary.

Totnes Town Council in Devon has declared a “moratorium” on 5G mobile networks in the town after local campaigners raised concerns about the potential effects of electromagnetic radiation on human health. But while there is nothing to stop a local authority making a statement that they are opposed to 5G (or other mobile networks) for whatever reasons, they have no legal powers to prevent telecoms companies installing antennas, cabinets and other necessary equipment for them.

Chapter 10 of the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) for England sets out the overarching rules that all councils must adhere to when making planning policies and considering planning applications for communications development.

Like all planning policy, the NPPF has the force of law. It is not merely guidance or a statement of general intent.

Paragraph 112 lays out the government’s overall objectives that planning policy and decisions should support new communications development:

Advanced, high quality and reliable communications infrastructure is essential for economic growth and social well-being. Planning policies and decisions should support the expansion of electronic communications networks, including next generation mobile technology (such as 5G) and full fibre broadband connections. Policies should set out how high quality digital infrastructure, providing access to services from a range of providers, is expected to be delivered and upgraded over time; and should prioritise full fibre connections to existing and new developments (as these connections will, in almost all cases, provide the optimum solution).

Paragraph 114 is clear on the unlawfulness of “bans”:

Local planning authorities should not impose a ban on new electronic communications development in certain areas, impose blanket Article 4 directions over a wide area or a wide range of electronic communications development, or insist on minimum distances between new electronic communications development and existing development.

Article 4 directions are local orders that limit applicants’ use of relaxed “permitted development” rules that create whole classes of planning applications that are considered to be acceptable in principle, even if they can be challenged on some specific grounds. Many communications developments make use of these rules, which are set out in Part 16 of the General Permitted Development Order (GPDO). Councils may only refuse such applications on the grounds of “siting” (it’s in an inappropriate place) or “appearance” (it’s unaesethetic or poorly camouflaged). Applicants have a right to appeal to the Planning Inspectorate if their application is refused on these grounds, so any attempt to use these limited grounds as a de facto moratorium or ban is unlikely to be successful. The government is currently consulting on a proposal to remove even these limited grounds for refusing telcoms applications. If policy is changed accordingly, in most cases telecoms companies will simply notify local councils of their intent to install new kit and then just do it – no permission required at all.

Paragraph 116 of the NPPF states what should be obvious:

Local planning authorities must determine applications on planning grounds only.

and with an eye to previous and anticipated obstruction, continues:

They should not seek to prevent competition between different operators, question the need for an electronic communications system, or set health safeguards different from the International Commission guidelines for public exposure.

Persuading your local council to oppose 5G might have political and publicity value but it has no legal force whatsoever and runs the risk of creating false expectations that planning applications for 5G equipment will be refused wholesale and the networks will not be installed. Aside from refusing individual applications on specific, limited grounds on a case by case basis as happened recently in Brighton and Hove, councils can only engage in public debates and lobby central government where they are opposed to new telecoms developments like 5G.

National planning policy follows the government’s industrial strategy, which declares:

We will build a Britain that lives on the digital frontier, with full-fibre broadband, new 5G networks and smart technologies.

Unless anyone can change the government’s mind on that, or change the government for one that thinks otherwise, 5G will continue to be rolled out whether local councils – and local people – want it or not.
Click here to view the source article.
Source: AdrianShort.org, Adrian Short, 23 Oct 2019

Fleeced by the phone giants
Scotland Created: 30 Dec 2019
SCOTTISH LANDOWNERS have been 'fleeced' by telecoms giants in the two years since the introduction of the UK Government's Electronic Communications Code in December 2017.

Scottish Land and Estates has accused telecom operators of taking advantage of landowners, using 'scaremongering' tactics to lead to swift leasing agreements, without encouraging them to seek professional advice. As a result, rents paid by telecoms companies to use rural land for mobile phone masts and broadband apparatus have been slashed, with some as low as £1 compared with site rents of over £10,000 just two years ago.

The code was created to facilitate the installation and maintenance of electronic communications networks, but SLaE said that it had instead produced a 'stagnation' of new sites being commissioned and low numbers of lease renewals for land with existing apparatus. In the past two years, there has been a ten-fold increase in the number of cases relating to the code going before the Lands Tribunal. There have been 77 cases brought forward in 2017-2019 compared with just five tribunal cases over the 33-year period under the old code.

The key issue is that the code has allowed operators to offer phone mast deals based on the agricultural value of the land, which becomes a tiny figure when the annual leasehold figure is calculated. The Lands Tribunal has confirmed they do not feel this was an appropriate valuation method, but SLaE state that they are still seeing operators use this method.

SLaE and NFU Scotland have set up a special telecoms forum bringing together utilities and telecoms professionals to help tackle the issues arising from the new code. Head of policy at SlaE, Stephen Young, commented: “For the past two years landowners have been fleeced by telecoms giants. They are taking a very aggressive approach to lease renewals, often using underhand tactics to scare landowners into signing agreements they do not understand the full consequences of.

"The telecoms operators are shying away from encouraging the landowner to take professional advice, which they are entitled to and should be paid for by the telecoms company," he stressed. "Many landowners don’t realise they are entitled to this and the telecoms companies are failing to offer this. The code could be really effective if telecoms operators changed their behavior,” he suggested.

NFUS' head of policy, Gemma Cooper added: “An efficient and reliable broadband and mobile network is essential for rural businesses and we welcome the upgrade and expansion of the service network.

“However, there have been problems in the roll out of this expansion that are related to the way the Electronics Communication Code is currently being interpreted by operators," she continued. "We welcome the formation of the forum to tackle issues associated with the code. Improved operator interactions with landowners, farmers and crofters will be fundamental to ensuring rural businesses and communities can thrive and reap the benefits of an improved telecoms network."
Click here to view the source article.
Source: The Scottish Farmer, Gordon Davidson, 29 Dec 2019

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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