Living smartly with smartphones

Phones have become a way of life for many people. This device enables modern man with hectic schedules to multi-task and undertake activities, which ordinarily would require lots of time and energy.

So, it’s understandable, when some people appear unable to do without their handsets.However, despite its numerous positive attributes, there have been health worries globally about the possible side effects of using smartphones.

In 2015, a group of 200 biological and health scientists from around the world expressed their concerns about the negative aspects of smartphones. They called on the United Nations (UN) to help them in their quest for spreading the awareness.

Interestingly, some other people have come up to fault this claim. They believe there is really no harm in using smartphones, and that with little precaution the device poses no serious harm to human health. They said those claiming otherwise are only raising a false alarm.

As the claims and counterclaims continue, some creative inventors are taking advantage of the situation to manufacture items they say are capable of neutralising or totally preventing radiations from smartphones from making negative impact on the health of the users.

But does smartphone technology truly have anything to do with radiation?

According to online tech blogger and owner of Prexblog website, Precious Agbontan, cellphones give off forms of non-ionizing Electromagnetic Radiation (EMR) called Radio Frequency (RF) radiation and Extreme Low Frequency (ELF) radiation.

He explained that the radio frequency consists of signals such as Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, 3G, and LTE connections commonly known as 4G, while the extreme low frequency radiation is generated from the phones’ hardware.

All of the connections going to and from mobile devices all operate at different frequencies. Wi-Fi connections operate between five main frequency ranges: 2.4GHz, 3.6GHz, 4.9GHz, 5GHz and 5.9GHz. Bluetooth operates on the 2.4GHz band. Cellular connectivity in smartphones operates on a multitude of frequencies, anywhere from 700MHz to 2.7GHz.

Agbontan said: “This radiation is usually absorbed through the body tissues, particularly near where the phone is held. The degree of exposure depends on several factors, such as, the type of phone being used, how much time is spent on the phone and how far the user is from the cell tower.”

Speaking on the danger inherent in smartphones usage in a video posted on YouTube, CNN Chief Medical Correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, said many manufacturers actually warned people on how to handle cellphones during communication.

He explained that some manufacturers such as Blackberry advised users to keep their devices about 1.9 inches away from their head when making calls.

“If you read the manual very well, you will see that is what they are asking you to do and it is part of the reason they give you earpieces to wear instead of holding the phone to your ears,” he said. “Those really tough times, when you are travelling with your phone and you are in a bad cell area where you could not get good reception, your phone is actually working harder. It is sending signal back and forth to the nearest cell tower. But if the phone is not working well, it means it is sending more of those signals or energy and more radiation. That is the time to put the phone away.”

He, however, warned that children are more at risk because due to their thin skull, they are more vulnerable.

He said: “If we are talking about radiation, it is easier to get through because of those thin skull. People should keep in mind that most adults now didn’t use phone until they were older, but children are going to live their entire lives with it.”

To mitigate the danger, some experts have suggested using the left ears to answer calls. According to Yomi Prof, a blogger, experts believe the human brain is closer to the right ear.

He said: “According to Apollo Medical Team, if you use your right ear to answer calls, then the brain will be more prone to radiations. But they have failed to prove that using the left ear is totally safe or not.”

Speaking on the imperative of using left ear, Agbontan said he had a bad experience using his left ear to make calls.

“I have experienced this issue and it was a bad experience, because I was slightly unconscious when it happened. I would advise that people should answer phones with their left ears, as doing otherwise could cause tumour of the brain, head and neck, although it may not necessarily be linked when this problem occur.”

He also cited other ways in which using smartphones could affect people’s health. In his view, smartphone decreases memory and is also the culprit for memory loss.

“When connected to digital photos for long, we stop bothering to remember things by ourselves and this stop us from using our internal memory,” he explained. “I would advise such a person experiencing this issue to take a break from his or her smartphone and enjoy some outdoor activities, rather than staying glued to it.”

According to him, smartphones also weaken deep thinking, which may lead to laziness and procrastination, which could affect people’s health.

The tech expert also said excessive use of smartphones could lead to increase in physical injury.

“If you are physically less active, the muscles in your body begin to weaken, along with your endurance and immune system. In addition, it can cause disruptive sleeping patterns by disrupting our sleeping hormone called melatonin.”

He advised users to combat addiction, by taking a break for outdoor activities such as playing with pets, reading a book and undertaking sports, among others.

On other means of protection against adverse effect of using smartphones, Gupta stated that people should simply use earpiece.

“All the research, all the science is pointing that way. And since we don’t know enough yet, we don’t want to find out twenty years from now, that there was a cancer and you didn’t do anything about it. Now, the solution is simple.”

Segun Oluwaseun, a health consultant and marketer of cell phone anti-shield stickers, said anti-radiation stickers for mobile phones are made of Nano technology to protect phone users and other electronic devices against the effect of radiation arising from the use of these devices.

He insisted they are necessary accessories for mobile users, saying the device could be used on computer, television screen and microwave, as all of these also emit electro-magnetic frequencies (EMFs).

However, as phone cases get more fashionable, anti-shield phone cases have made their debuts to add style to protecting against radiation. Some of the manufacturers of these products claim they are stylish phone covers with hidden innovative technologies that protect reproductive health by blocking the mobile phone radiation testicles absorb by more than 85 per cent.

According to them, the anti-radiation case is designed in such a way that the phone could still send and receive messages, calls and data as normal.

Another anti-radiation shield seller, Elisabeth Ekon, explained that the device is a necessary accessory for cellphones, as it shields users from harmful radiation. She declared that using it is very important for people to protect against health hazards associated with using phones.

Ekon stated that from personal experience, she has learned that using the shield helps reduce the noise she always hears, when making calls.

She, however, lamented the fact that there is low awareness of the product among Nigerians, saying it is important that they use it to protect themselves.

An investigation by The Guardian revealed that most phone accessories sellers in Lagos are not selling these protective products. Similarly, some of the itinerant accessories sellers claimed ignorance about its existence, while others simply said they did not have it.

However, findings by The Guardian revealed that the science behind the device is still controversial. For instance, in 2002, the United States Federal Trade Commission charged two manufacturers or purported cell phone radiation patches with making false claims.

In June 2011, the same agency issued an alert stating that radiation shields are utterly without scientific merit.

According to a tech expert, Robert Lamb, a small anti-radiation sticker placed near the antenna would not cut down absorption rate of radiation on users’ bodies, as the entire phone emits electromagnetic waves.

He said: “Not only do such stickers not absorb the radiation they claim to, they might actually increase the amount of radiation your phone pumps out. Such stickers might interfere with a phone’s signal, thereby forcing it to draw even more power to communicate with cell towers and emitting more radiation in the process.”

He advised phone users to rather play safe by using hand-free headsets to distance the radiation-emitting phones from their brain cells. While urging users to consider using phone in open spaces, as opposed to enclosed rooms, the tech expert said they should consider the use of SMS more and avoid long calls, when signal reception is poor, as the harder the phone has to work to maintain a signal, the more radiation it emits.

The past President, Institute of Software Practitioners of Nigeria (ISPON), Chris Uwaje, however, described anti-radiation shield as a marketing gimmick, saying it offers no protection whatsoever.

He explained that the device only validates the fact that excessive radiation emission exists in the global cellphone production and usage ecosystem.

He noted that with the rapid expansion of mobile phone market-demand, this remains a global challenge and critical health issue.

He said: “My concern as a practising IT professional in the software domain is future possibilities of weaponisation of mobile phone as a weaponry of warfare at the Nano scale of things within the context of Internet of Everything! This concern becomes more contingent, as the UN is set to discuss the emergence of killer robots”.

He called for a massive awareness campaign by government to educate users, who must learn to send more meaningful text messages and programme their phones timer to talk less.

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