An Uncontrolled Experiment
Most of us assume that new technologies must be safe. After all, if a technological advance weren’t safe, surely it wouldn’t be allowed to come to market, right? Perhaps in theory. But even a cursory glance at history suggests things don’t always work this way. Does anyone remember when it was considered perfectly safe to add the heavy metal, lead, to products like gasoline and paint? Until the late 1970s, lead contaminated the environment for decades. Only after generations of children suffered severe developmental disabilities from lead poisoning did we take steps to eliminate the toxin from common usage.
X-rays are another example. When they were first discovered, x-rays were considered a harmless novelty. Countless people suffered from radiation poisoning, and many died, before the dangers of this powerful “ionizing” radiation were recognized. Now we know that x-rays can be harnessed for good, but must be used with extreme caution. Cell phones rely on non-ionizing microwave radiation. Until recently it was argued that non-ionizing radiation cannot harm biological tissues. Now we know this simply isn’t true. Cell phone use, for example, has been linked to reproductive problems among men, and an increased risk of brain cancer. I worry that by unthinkingly embracing technologies like cell phones, we may be repeating the costly mistakes of the past.
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