reprint from Gear + Gadgets
The concern about Wi-Fi is being taken seriously in Europe. In April 2008, the national library of France, citing possible “genotoxic effects,” announced it would shut down its Wi-Fi system, and the staff of the storied Library of Sainte-Geneviève in Paris followed up with a petition demanding the disconnection of Wi-Fi antennas and their replacement by wired connections. Several European governments are already moving to prohibit Wi-Fi in government buildings and on campuses, and the Austrian Medical Association is lobbying for a ban of all Wi-Fi systems in schools, citing the danger to children’s thinner skulls and developing nervous systems.
I drove down to Annapolis, Maryland, recently to visit with Allan Frey. He was preparing to set out on his forty-foot sailboat for a month at sea, so we talked at a restaurant near the marina. After retiring from full-time research in 1985, Frey, now 75, took up the philosophy of science as an avocation, looking at the question of how science progresses, how it fails to progress, how new ideas are birthed or aborted, how a shift in paradigm is a rare thing. The failure to look squarely at the dangers of microwave radiation is a case study in frozen paradigms, he said, a worldview that can’t keep pace with reality.
To illustrate what he meant, Frey held up a glass of water. “We’re all just big teacups, bags of water that you can heat up—that’s the paradigm,” he said. It’s the engineer’s paradigm, the mind-set of people who had no training in the complexity of living systems. The branches of the military, the major defense contractors, the manufacturers of microwave ovens, the telecom companies, were happy to embrace the engineer’s paradigm. The thinking was simple and easy to understand, and most important, it indemnified their operations from liability.
“It’s a very primitive mind-set,” said Frey. “Plato said we don’t see the reality; we see shadows on the cave walls. We’ve got a lot of people who are seeing shadows and saying this is the reality.” He nodded at his water glass. “We now know a human being isn’t a bag of water.
A human being is a complex organization of electrical fields.
Electroencephalograms and electrocardiograms, for example, measure these fields. Every cell has an electrical field across the cell membrane, which is a regulatory interface and controls what goes into and out of the cell. All nerve signals are electric. And between the nucleus and the membrane there is an electrical field, you can measure voltages of individual cells! Electricity drives biology.
We evolved in a particular electromagnetic environment”—the magnetic fields from the earth’s iron core, the terrestrial magnetism from lodestones, visible light, ultraviolet frequencies, lightning—”and if we change that environment as we have, we either adapt or we have trouble.”
Later, after Frey and I parted, I walked around Annapolis and took note of the number of cell towers poised atop the buildings, the number of people who talked on their cell phones. They were everywhere, and after a while I stopped counting. At one point, I watched two women pacing in a parking lot, heads bent against their microwave transmitters. They talked and talked and aimlessly circled. When I got home, I looked up a line from Orwell that I couldn’t quite remember as I watched them, about the power that machine technology would exert over mankind. “The machine has got to be accepted, but it is probably better to accept it rather as one accepts a drug—that is, grudgingly and suspiciously,” Orwell wrote. “Like a drug, the machine is useful, dangerous and habit-forming. The oftener one surrenders to it the tighter its grip becomes.”
Modern society, needless to say, is in the grip of wireless technology. All you have to do to understand this is step outside your door. “It just so happens,” Frey had told me, “that the frequencies and modulations of our cell phones seem to be the frequencies that humans are particularly sensitive to. If we had looked into it a little more, if we had done the real science, we could have allocated spectrums that the body can’t feel. The public should know if they are taking a risk with cell phones. What we’re doing is a grand world experiment without informed consent.” As for Louis Slesin’s question—what will it take to change the paradigm?—Frey shook his head. “Until there are bodies in the streets,” he said, “I don’t think anything is going to change.”
christopher ketcham is a reporter in New York City. Research support for this article was provided by the Investigative Fund at The Nation Institute.