In the news today: a fresh study of whether children's use of mobile phones can harm their brain development - see http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/health-27475515.
The general danger from mobile phones - microwave energy zapping through persons standing too close to phone masts, or chatty people unwisely spending hours with the device pressed to their ear - has been seriously debated without conclusion for a long time, certainly over ten years. The risk for adults is presently said to be small and nothing much to worry about. That sounds very much like the industry persuading the government that there is no problem, and the government finding it impossible to press the issue - abetted by a public that does not want to hear that their favourite gadget will frazzle their brains, and lead to dementia. Besides, a mobile phone is so much part of most people's daily life nowadays. To ban these very useful items would be like the government ordering all private car owners off the roads - a catastrophic decision to make, politically undoable without a mass citizen rebellion.
There are those, of course, who for one reason or another (and it may just be clear-sighted sanity) have never really joined the 'phone club'. But most of the population have joined, and with alacrity, all over the world. And, surely, a billion or two ordinary people can't be wrong about anything, can they? I mean, if most people believe something is right, and desirable, how can that be ignored? (I hope my irony is not too obvious)
Even so, it is absolutely proper to regard soft and delicate children's brains as a different kettle of fish compared to the hard and fossilised brains that many adults have. So this new study is definitely a Good Thing. I wonder what the researchers will find, when they start talking to the children?
'It's good to talk' but it does seem to me, from daily observation, that voice calling (with the phone clamped to the ear, and dangerously close to the grey matter) has been in decline for some time.
It's still very popular, of course, with those of the older generation who grew up with the traditional fixed or cordless telephone in the house. But modern phone design favours interaction using the screen, with the device held well away from the head. Which for kids is a better scenario: aching thumbs and tired eyes are not good, but surely better than brain damage.
Voice calling has certainly been in decline among adults in my circle. It's regarded as something you resort to, if you need an immediate answer on some issue. Done on the understanding that the caller is disregarding the other person's right to peace and quiet, their possible inability to deal with a disembodied voice twittering from a small gadget, and without allowing the thinking-time needed for a worthwhile response.
Voice calling is utilitarian and not cool. It's for business people and grannies. In my circle we expect to be contacted by text or email; or if on Facebook, by a message there. And not normally by a voice call. Contact has polarised into carefully-composed electronic messages on one hand, to be replied to when genuinely convenient; and face-to-face conversation on the other, regarded as authentic and spontaneous and truly meaningful - the big payback for the effort of meeting up: the Real Deal. Neither poles fry the old cerebellum.
I'm not saying there is no problem, though. There has been an astonishing increase in background microwave traffic since the 1950s, to feed such things as radio, TV, radar, GPS, kitchen ovens, and of course mobile phones. Plus noise pollution from sundry low-frequency sources - traffic rumble, high-altitude aircraft, politicians' statements. Sometimes I wonder whether my 'tinnitus' is actually my hearing some of this stuff. Probably nonsense. But who is going to reassure me?