There was a time when the mobile phone was viewed as a curse of modern life by so many in this country.
It still is by some. As a regular train commuter on the scenic cross-city route into Birmingham, I can vouch for the fact that they still have the capacity to irritate – or rather those who use them do.
Whether it is the latest hilarious, must have (sic) ring-tone, or the archetypal bellowing buffoon who feels the need to broadcast to the entire carriage, the mobile continues to enjoy something of a love-hate relationship. So-called quiet zones have now become a common feature of trains, the cross-city line included, although as a rule the signs are not always successful in encouraging people to stay silent.
I well remember as a trainee reporter in South Wales 15 years ago interviewing an eminent Pontypool-based scientist – now that’s a description you don’t see too often – who was conducting research into the first generation of mobile phones. He claimed there was a significant health risk for those who used the phones, pointing to high radiation levels and the obvious danger of having such a device so close to your brain.
His conclusions were largely dismissed, although I recall he stubbornly refused to disappear into his lab and kept on issuing his own public health warnings.
Such concerns continue to crop up from time to time, but despite of a brief flurry of excitement they tend to be forgotten just as quickly. Our appetite for the latest hand-set remains fairly insatiable. We’re almost all “mobile” these days and none of us give us a second thought for the health warnings.
The latest study may strike a chord, however, particularly among the male population. Research carried out in the US suggests prolonged use of a mobile phone could have a negative impact on sperm counts and follows samples taken from men attending fertility clinics (http://www.guardian.co.uk/mobile/article/0,,1930026,00.html).
The researchers identified a 30 per cent drop in sperm “movement and viability” among those who have their mobile almost permanently clamped to their ear.
So will such alarming statistics – which obviously have the potential to hit men hardest where it hurts the most – change our mobile phone habits?
It is unlikely, not least because the mobile has become such a basic, everyday object for so many – these days keys, wallet/purse, mobile, are the equivalent of mirror, signal, manoeuvre for those about to head out the front door.
As ever, we are also getting mixed messages about such accessories of modern life. On the one hand we are once more warned of the health risks, but elsewhere Kay Withers, of the Institute of Policy Research (http://www.ippr.org.uk/), writes about how the mobile phone has become an essential, 21st century parenting tool. Children belonging to a wide age range, from early primary right through to sixth formers, are being bought mobile phones by their parents as a way of keeping track of their movements, their behaviour and most importantly as a way of being reassured about their safety.
These parents have health and welfare concerns for their children, but they clearly don’t extend to the on-going concerns about mobile phones and their impact on our bodies.
Equally, society is shifting to embrace such technology and give us more options for using gadgets like our mobile phones. Chiltern Railways has become the first train operator in the UK to deliver tickets to passengers on their mobiles (http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/england/oxfordshire/6079608.stm).
The ticket is sent to your mobile as a bar code and you simply scan the message at the barrier. Isn’t technology wonderful?
When technology is proven to make life simpler and cut out the frustrating, time-wasting hassles, then any health warnings take a distant back seat.
Anyway, such warnings are only aimed at those who are always on their phone. Most of us are moderate or infrequent users, so will have no such worries.
I’m happy enough to keep my phone in my pocket all day…although maybe I should get out of the habit of keeping it in my trouser pocket, given that new research from the US.