Brain Health

Wireless Technology Use Is Rewiring Our Brains—Here’s How

BY Mingjia Jacky Guan TIMEAugust 22, 2022 PRINT

We’re doing everything with our phones—grocery shopping, buying new clothes, calling our friends, gaming, and tens of other things. Some Americans work with their phones. Sometimes the dinner table has more phones than people. Sometimes your beloved looks at their phone more than you. Or you might look at your phone more than your kids.

The telephone was invented in 1876, the personal computer in 1974, and the internet in the same year. The first commercial attempt at the smartphone was by IBM in 1992. It featured several functions including calling, texting, emails, a world clock, and many more that are a staple in todays phone. But 30 years later, today’s phone does much, much more. And compared with the 50,000 units IBM Simons sold back in the early 90s, today, 97 percent of Americans own a cell phone and estimates show that there are more than 6 billion smartphones worldwide.

Interestingly, around the same time the IBM Simon came out, the American government made a significant funding cut. “A big reason there isn’t more research about the health risks of radiofrequency radiation exposure is because the U.S. government stopped funding this research in the 1990s, with the exception of a $30 million rodent study published in 2018 by the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences’ National Toxicology Program, which found ‘clear evidence’ of carcinogenicity from cellphone radiation,” Dr. Joel Moskowitz, who had been researching the effects of wireless radiation for a decade at UC Berkeley, told Berkeley News.

A 60 page Harvard Ethicist research paper (pdf) written by Norm Alster shows that the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), responsible for regulating wireless technology, is “dominated by the industries it presumably regulates.”

Disturbing Cerebral White and Gray Matter Integrity and Memory Issues

There are two things that make up your brain; they are called white matter and gray matter, each named for their relative appearances. Gray matter fully develops when a person reaches about 20 and is responsible for all motor movements of the body and, most importantly, cognitive abilities. White matter plays a key role in relaying and accelerating nerve signals from and to the brain and continues to mature into the middle age.

Both substances are predominantly present in the brain and parts of the spinal cord and are considered one the most mysterious yet vital parts of the human body, playing a critical role in performing any task, for relaying information and translating them into actions that we would like to perform. Studies show that smaller volumes of white matter, for example, might be associated with impairments relating to attention, memory, executive functions, intelligence, and academic achievement.

In extreme cases, deterioration in white and gray matter density and integrity is the leading cause of neurodegenerative diseases. Alzheimer’s disease, for example, is thought to come from the growth of protein plaques in place of white matter and so leads to motor and memory impairments. Multiple sclerosis comes from an inflammatory disease in the central nervous system that also leads to white matter deterioration. Substance abuse and brain trauma can also lead to brain matter deterioration—yet phones can do the same.

Chronic phone use has been clinically shown to lead to gray matter deterioration, the part of the brain that enables motor movements, memory, and emotions. This is likely due to the radiofrequency electromagnetic fields (RF-EMF) emitted from smartphones. A Swiss study conducted in 2015 suggests that exposure to RF-EMF emitted by cell phones was related to memory issues. Another Swiss study preliminarily concluded that RF-EMF exposure was associated with declines in cognitive functions in the brain, which includes memory issues.

MRI scans of patients who are addicted to smartphones already reveal that their brain gray matter composition resembles that of a person with substance use disorders: deteriorated. It has already been clinically proven that RF-EMF exposure is related to changes in brain biochemistry and electrophysiology as stated previously. It is then logically deducible that prolonged exposure to smartphone RF-EMF is related to brain deterioration.

A recently published study detailing the effects of 5G in real life situations include neurodegenerative diseases, such as Alzheimer’s disease and Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS), as well as other neurobehavioral issues like autism, pineal gland/melatonin production, and blood-brain barrier disruption. The research of 5G and its effects are somewhat limited, yet pre-existing studies already show that there are already plenty of ramifications.

There are currently almost 300 electromagnetic field/radiofrequency radiation (EMF/RFR) studies documenting their neurological effects, or their effects on the brain. With the abundance of evidence out there, a group consisting of more than 250 scientists in the field of EMF research have appealed to the United States and the WHO for greater health protection on EMF exposure. This appeal is ever more relevant as more studies emerge on the adverse health effects of 5G mobile networking technology under real life conditions.

How RF-EMF Causes Cancer

An NIH research project looking into the adverse effects of 2G and 3G radiation on mice, published in 2018, revealed that exposure to phone network-related radio frequencies are vividly associated with tumors in various mice organs and other types of cancer.

In addition to this, current scientific evidence clearly demonstrates an increased risk for glioma and acoustic neuroma, types of cancers in the brain and spinal cord, related to use of mobile and/or cordless phones. A systematic review in late 2020 had the same conclusions and stated that there is “significant evidence linking cellular phone use to increased tumor risk, especially among cell phone users with cumulative cell phone use of 1,000 or more hours in their lifetime (which corresponds to about 17 min per day over 10 years), and especially among studies that employed high quality methods.”

The current narrative in wireless technology is that the millimeter wavelength technology for, let’s say, 5G or WiFi, is not considered to be strong enough to penetrate the skin and non-ionizing, and therefore won’t do humans any harm. The International Commision on Non-Ionizing Radiation Protection (ICNIRP) has set various guidelines, but said guidelines:

  • don’t prevent unacceptable increases in temperature
  • don’t restrict the intensity of spikes of radiation
  • require one to hold a 5G mobile phone 8 cm from the head or body

This came from Professor Doctor Yuri G. Grigoriev, member of several Russian and International commissions and committees on radiation and EMF safety, as well as the deputy chair of the Bureau of Radiobiology in the Russian Academy of Sciences, who published his book “Frequencies used in Telecommunications – An Integrated Radiobiological Assessment” shortly before his death.

In the book, Dr. Grigoriev points out that ICNIRP is not necessarily credible. The company is a German NGO with ties to the industry and has been criticized for falsely assuming authority. The ICNIRP Guidelines, Dr. Grigoriev believed, are inadequate because they were solely designed to protect people from the heating effects of radiation. In his book, he referred to studies that highlighted damage to nerve cells, alterations to cell membranes, levels of brain proteins in the hippocampus, breaks in DNA, reproduction, and many more effects.

Dr. Moskovitz says there are a plethora of studies on 5G technology, and most of them will tell you that 5G is quite safe and that there is no reason to worry. But reading the fine print will tell you that out of the 408 studies out there, there are only seven studies that are medical or biological studies on 5G.

“A closer look, however, reveals that although these [seven] studies employed carrier frequencies used in 5G, none of these studies modulated or pulsed the signal as required by 5G or used other features of 5G technology (e.g., beamforming, massive MIMO, and phased arrays) that are likely to affect the nature and extent of biological or health effects from exposure to this radiation.”

However, a study which modulated real-world conditions concluded that radiofrequency radiation, not even necessarily 5G, can result in carcinogenicity, such as brain tumors/glioma, breast cancer, acoustic neuromas, leukemia, and parotid gland tumors. These results were based on experiments conducted with radiofrequency levels beneath FCC guidelines. The same study found that cell phone radiation also can cause inflammation, headaches, irritability, fatigue, concentration difficulties, depression, tinnitus, digestive disturbance, and many more ramifications.

Starting from here, you can see that smartphones and their impact on the human body does not pertain to one area or another; it resembles a systematic offense on the whole biological being.

How to Beat Smartphone Addiction

There is no point in denying that people nowadays are addicted to smartphones. Studies have shown that 1 in every 4 adolescents were prone to smartphone addiction, yet estimates predict that the real figures are much higher. You can see around you that smartphones are not only affecting teenagers. It’s also taking a toll on relationships, families, and it affects people of any age. Smartphone addiction leads to many clinically (sleep, ocular, and musculoskeletal disorders), psychologically (distraction, mood modification, loss of interest) and socially (superficial approach to learning, isolation) unfavorable outcomes. Yet it’s not entirely your fault.

Smartphones are designed to be addictive; it’s in their DNA. There’s an urge to tap the screen constantly, to drag the screen down and refresh because it gives some inexplicable satisfaction—gambling addicts can’t resist pulling that slot machine lever just as smartphone addicts can’t resist scrolling down that screen. The similarities are palpable, and former Google design ethicist Tristan Harris explains that features, such as pull-to-refresh, are inspired by slot machines and other casino games. The ding of an incoming message was designed to somehow trigger dopamine in your brain. Yet with all the negative externalities discussed previously, you’d probably want to break free from your smartphone as well, right? Here are some simple steps you can take.

Don’t Deny It

The first step is to realize if you’re using your smartphone an unnecessary amount each day. There are people who simply need to use their phone for business and can’t really “lose” it. The emphasis is on “unnecessary,” where addiction is something like constantly feeling the urge to use your phone even though it’s not absolutely necessary. Scrolling through your feed for hours on end on social media is a pretty standard example. Reaching for your phone when there is no need is another. It’s sometimes a fine line, which is why you need to put your foot down and say “this is too much.”

Once you take this first step of deciding whether you’re using the smartphone too much, you can then think about your next steps.

Think of Things to Do

The first step for people is usually to find a non-electronic thing to do in their downtime. Let’s say you’ve always had a tingle in your fingers and wanted to paint or draw, then you can start looking at workshops around you. A community bulletin board might be a point of interest for you. A super easy way to start is with baking or cooking.

Once you start looking around you for different things to do, it’s often nice to just spend some time with friends. Drive to a lake or explore a nearby trail or town, visit some hidden coffee shop, or go to a locally renowned tavern for a fun night out.

The sky is really your limit, but the main purpose is to come to realize there is a whole non-digital life you can and very much should live outside of your electronic comfort zone, and it’s quite enjoyable simply because it’s so down-to-earth.

Brainstorm around with a buddy, that one coworker, or that close cousin, and make some plans! It will do you no harm at all. Having someone with you who supports you is quite important.

Be Strict With Yourself

One tricky thing about fighting addiction in general is being very tough on yourself. Sticking with a goal, especially this one, requires plenty of determination and resilience. Sometimes, it might seem almost impossible, but with the right mindset and positive attitude, you can do it.

Try to not look at this as a burden or as homework you have to do for some annoying professor, think of it as you “freeing” yourself from the constant nagging of incoming messages or the latest tweet. There are plenty of functions like “do not disturb” settings that you can set to turn on automatically over the course of your day so you can just forget about it, bringing us to another crucial point.

Some people look at their phones just to look at their phones, while some others are there deliberately to message Mom. Yes, messaging a friend all the time is fun, but healthy social relationships involve breaks from each other, regardless of how close they are.

Constantly staying in touch 24/7 might lead to social apathy, meaning that there is no latest gossip to look forward to, no newest car to talk about, or nothing that happened that hasn’t been said. Not connecting with each other for a week or two and then meeting up to have a great time together is better than having texts darting left and right and spending a semi-silent afternoon at a coffee chain. Real social interaction is just better.

Go Offline

If the urge to reach for that smartphone is simply too large, bury it in your bag and escape.

One tradition from Japan called “Shinrin-Yoku” is where you go to a forest and take in the immense beauty nature has within itself. People usually spend hours in the wilderness this way and take some time to detox, relax, and be at peace.

Taking it a step further, you can plan your very own weekend getaway. Bring along some friends and book a room or two at a lodge somewhere close or very far and leave your phone in your bag, tucked away and turned off. If you’re feeling extra adventurous, then go camping! Just remember to stay safe.

Another great way for staying away from all the buzz is to buy a flip phone. They are another great way to disconnect while still being “online” enough for calls and texts.

All of this simply goes to show that you can very much live without your smartphone.

Jacky Mingjia Guan is based in Switzerland. He writes about a diverse range of contemporary topics, guided by the limitations of human rationality and perception.
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