Blogs & Comment

Cellphones may cause cancer, but so what?

While some folks are bound to overreact and freak out, the bottom line is it’s an easy-to-avoid problem—if it even is one.


The World Health Organization has kicked off another round of worries regarding cellphones and brain cancer with a report stating the devices are “possibly” carcinogenic. According to the New York Times, the WHO has classified cellphones as “Category 2B,” which includes other potentially carcinogenic substances such as DDT and car exhaust.

It’s a long-debated issue that many experts rushed to either support or pooh-pooh. As one brain cancer specialist told MSNBC, the word “possibly” should ring alarm bellsthere’s nothing conclusive about the WHO’s findings. The cellphone industry, meanwhile, was quick to point out that pickled vegetables and coffee are also on the organization’s Category 2B list.

So what now? Do we have to ditch our iPhones and Android devices and return to the dark ages, where we actually had to be at a specific location in order to speak to someone? Are all the productivity gains we’ve made over the past few decades thanks to an increasingly mobile population about to go out the window?

Well, no, not exactly. While some folks are bound to overreact and freak out, the bottom line is it’s an easy-to-avoid problemif it even is one. Many phones today have headphone-microphone combos while speakerphone is just as handy (I almost always use that feature because it helps me avoid accidentally pressing buttons on the keypad with my ear).

It’s also a new engineering challenge for cellphone makers, who are bound to figure out ways of mitigating the possible risks, which will inevitably turn into marketing features. Think about it: the iPhone 7now with less cancer!

There’s also more good news, as in: Who the heck talks anymore? As Clive Thompson pointed out in a Wired article last year, the phone call is actually dying. According to Nielsen numbers, the number of calls people are making is dropping every year after hitting a peak in 2007. Moreover, while the average length of a call in 2005 was three minutes, last year it was half that.

People are instead opting for less intrusive means of communication, such as texting, instant messaging and email, Thompson said. Phone calls are being reserved for deeper, more important communications, whichall things consideredare relatively rare.

It’s sound logic. The bottom line is that we’re already holding the things to our heads less and less, so the WHO’s findings don’t need to be as alarming as they seem.