Technology surrounds us ― in fact, it is impossible to escape. On one hand, technology solves millions of everyday problems and tends to make our lives more convenient and more comfortable. On the other hand, thanks to decades of science fiction, technology also tends to scare the bejeezus out of us.
Fortunately, there is generally no reason to fear the tech we carry around every day. Unfortunately, most people have trouble believing that. Whether they come from the annals of sci-fi or the imaginations of sci-fi fans, the following tech myths are incredibly pervasive in our society ― despite that they have absolutely no foundation in fact.
1. Cancerous Cellphones
The tale: Cellphones emit radiation that cause cancer ― most notably brain cancer — thanks to all the time we spend with our phones in our ears.
The truth: Cellphones (and by extension smartphones) emit a radio frequency to connect with cell towers and complete calls without other phones interfering. These radio frequencies are not any different from those surrounding other radio wave–emitting devices, like your Wi-Fi router, your television, or your microwave. To drive it home, in the 2008-09 report from the President’s Cancer Panel, researchers note that while cellphone use has increased six-fold since 1991, incidence of brain cancer has actually decreased by half. In fact, since 1975, rates for nearly all cancers have declined by about 1 percent per year.
2. Eavesdropping Cellphones
The tale: The government is tracking our movements through the GPS-capabilities enabled on our cellphones. Worse, some models allow the feds to locate us even when our devices are powered off.
The truth: Any facility on your phone, including your GPS, requires power to function, so when your phone is truly turned off, there is no possibility that it can transmit information to the government or any other entity. The only loophole is a type of malware that mimics a disabled device when the power is not actually shut off, but even in this case, removing a phone’s battery will solve your problem.
Admittedly, it is true that the feds can obtain information regarding the location of your phone when it is on ― but the tech to do this is outrageously expensive (about $400,000 each) and the process usually requires a warrant from the courts. In any event, there are far too many honest, innocent citizens for the government to drop so much cash on cellphone surveillance.
3. Exploding E-Cigarettes
The tale: E-cigarettes or vaporizers, the cool replacement for tobacco cigarettes, are actually terrifically dangerous because they can explode without warning.
The truth: This myth isn’t too far removed from the old tale that spoke of exploding computers. People are constantly terrified that their tech will go up like an atom bomb. In reality, electronic devices can blast apart, but this is due to human error and inappropriate battery charging for modded e-cigs, not any inherent danger within the device when assembled and used properly. You can avoid the possibility of explosion entirely by opting for disposable e-cigarettes instead of the rechargeable type, or you can follow the charging instructions carefully to eliminate the possibility of a fiery malfunction.
4. Sterilizing Laptops
The tale: Laptop radiation can irreparably damage a man’s reproductive ability when he uses a device on his lap.
The truth: As mentioned before, laptops do emit some radio frequencies thanks to their wireless internet connections. However, plenty of research indicates that radio frequencies pass harmlessly through the body and have no power to break or alter DNA molecules. Therefore, the sterilization this myth foretells is simply impossible.
This myth stems largely from a study completed in 2011 by Argentinian researchers, who found that long periods of laptop use decreased male fertility. Unfortunately, the scientific community at large continues to refute these claims, pointing to inappropriate methodology (for example, the placement of the laptop was unnatural and the duration of use untenable) and insufficient follow-up evidence. The researchers admitted their conclusions were speculative, but their statement didn’t prevent the myth from spreading.
It’s common enough that a friend or stranger will make a statement ― “Did you know cellphones cause cancer?” ― and you assume it is true. Small factoids are easy to remember, especially if they concern something new and exciting, like cellphones once were and vaporizers are now. However, it is dangerous to assume the worst about tech. After all, these technologies have made modern life outrageously easy, and it would be irresponsible to throw them away for a few unsubstantiated myths.