So why are cell phones singled out as the cause of car accidents, when an increase in the number of people using cell phones while driving has not increased the total number of accidents?
While at least one Russian official claims that cell phones' electromagnetic radiation attracts lightning, a more plausible attractor is the metal in cell phones. Yes, metal can attract lightning. So it's possible that with more people walking around in thunderstorms with metal next to their heads, more people are getting zapped by lightning.
But the number of people killed by lightning is very low. Only about 50 people per year die in the United States from lightning, and only a small percentage (often zero percent) of these involved a cell phone.
You're more likely to be mauled by an ill-tempered badger. So why are cell phone-related lightning strikes making the news?
Here's what's really going on
In many of these cases, we're transferring blame for behavior from the people responsible to their cell phones. So a careless pedestrian is now careless with a cell phone as she walks into traffic. We know some foods cause cancer, but choose to eat them anyway -- then focus on cell phones as a cancer risk. A neglectful mother now has a cell phone in hand as she neglects her child. A distracted driver -- always dangerous -- is now using a cell phone to distract himself, and so on.
Of course, cell phones are involved in some accidents, injuries or maladies. But so far, it appears that the numbers are very small compared to other causes.
Banning or avoiding cell phones wouldn't make a noticeable dent in rates of accidents, diseases or behavioral problems in children. By all means, take reasonable precautions with cell phones. But what would really make a difference in your health and welfare is: Eat healthy foods, pay attention when you're driving, walking or rollerblading -- and be a good parent.
What we really need, in other words, is a return to personal responsibility. What we don't need is an electronic scapegoat.
Mike Elgan writes about technology and global tech culture. He blogs about the technology needs, desires and successes of mobile warriors in his Computerworld blog, The World Is My Office . Contact Mike at firstname.lastname@example.org or his blog, The Raw Feed.
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