Britain On The Couch: Why mobiles could be the Rolls Royce of disease

If microwaving can bake raw potatoes, what would you expect it to do to the neurones in your skull?

HAVING RARE access to a first-class seat on a train the other day, I was unable to get a moment's peace from the incessant mobile phone chatter. "Okay, so you tell Jan to tell Terry that the meeting's on Friday ... sorry, on Friday ... no, tell Jan and Terry it's on Friday ... hello? hello?" Tring, tring. "No, I was saying you should ring Jan ... and so on, ad nauseam.

Until recently the strategy that a good friend of mine used to deal with this irritant was simply to ask the source to move, in a firm and direct manner. But very soon he will implement a new approach. Each morning he rushes to see if the postman has brought his new toy, a mobile phone zapper which causes a high-pitched squeal in the ear when pointed at a phone user.

My main worry about mobile phones, however, is not noise. It is that they may damage the brain, perhaps promoting brain cancer. As with all these health scares, in retrospect it seems common sense. If you deregulate without much forethought and with scientific research priorities driven by profit, you should expect trouble.

It was, for example, easy for the tobacco industry to get away with deliberately raising nicotine levels in their products knowing that they will cause addiction and cancer. And was it altogether surprising that, after endlessly recycling sheep's brains containing scrapie, BSE broke out in cows? Or, after pouring organophosphates into the soil, that most of the population seems permanently under the weather, with weakened immune systems?

So you should not be surprised if microwaving the brain with a mobile turns out to be not a good idea. If microwaving can bake raw potatoes, what would you expect it to do to the neurones in your skull?

A recent Scandinavian study provides the strongest evidence so far. Mobile users are more prone to memory loss and headaches, and it may not be long before further research proves more malign outcomes, more than 10 years too late.

I have a mobile and it is extremely helpful to me during the periods when I am making TV programmes, living a peripatetic life. I remember when they first came into mass circulation, in the late 1980s, and I was sent off to do a psychological interview with a man who had already made his first million out of the product.

He was a troubled, somewhat lonely person who may have been drawn to this particular field by a strong desire to be able to be in touch at any moment. Certainly, he was not in touch with his own feelings. Nor did he seem to have many (or any) intimate relationships. His desire to be able to call and be called at any time, anywhere, reminded me of an insecure toddler who fears separation from its parents.

But whatever his deeper motives, there is no doubt he was on to a good thing. Even without the huge practical advantages the mobile phone can bring, the increasing insularity of our lives, as more of us live alone, separated from spouses, children and intimates, means that more and more of us feel desperately lonely and want to be in contact.

Whilst some people only use the phones to achieve practical ends, many others use them to feel connected emotionally. As work increasingly replaces authentic intimacy, endless chatter on the phone, ostensibly about important work-related matters, is often used to bolster self-esteem and fill an inner emptiness. An unnecessary call to a colleague can make you feel powerful, popular, even loved. The fact that it may also be giving you brain cancer is something you would rather not think about, and the manufacturers are not about to encourage that thought.

When I first heard of this danger a couple of years ago, I rushed down to my local shop only to be told that there was nothing in it. But when I returned a month ago, they had changed the pitch. Advanced capitalism has an amazing capacity to make money every which way, so now the line was that I needed a new phone (pounds 299.99) which would send the microwaves away from my head. Luckily I had already researched the solution: a pounds 39.99 earplug with microphone which enables you to speak and listen without having the phone next to your ear.

This saga reminds me of the reaction I first had to Aids when I heard about it in 1986: how viciously unfair that its method of transmission should particularly put at risk already marginalised groups like gays. Of course, many people at the time argued that this was common sense. If you use parts of the body for purposes that the Good Lord did not intend them, what can you expect?

But what I felt was that it was deeply unfair that the virus had not been transmitted by the leather on Rolls Royce seats or by champagne corks. It was pretty random that it happened to be the way it was.

The mobile phone may turn out to be that champagne cork/Rolls Royce leather disease and, ironically, if it does provoke an epidemic of brain cancer, the most at-risk groups will be the insecure and wealthy people who first latched on to them to keep loneliness and insignificance at bay.

Usually, the people to suffer the worst consequences of advanced capitalism's exploitation of our instincts (eg to eat, to have sex) and our weaknesses, are the poorest and most vulnerable. Could the mobile phone be the first exception to that rule?

If it is, my good friend - soon to wreak havoc with his zapper - will rejoice at the thought of train journeys and restaurants made more peaceable by the absence of the showy, insecure types most likely to die.

Oliver James's book `Britain on The Couch - Why We're Unhappier Compared With 1950 Despite Being Richer' is published by Century.

Arts and Entertainment
Cillian Murphy stars as Tommy Shelby in Peaky Blinders

TV
Arts and Entertainment
The cast of The Big Bang Theory in a still from the show

TV
Arts and Entertainment

art
Arts and Entertainment
Rupert Murdoch and Rebekah Brooks in 2011

Review: A panoramic account of the hacking scandal

books
Arts and Entertainment
Adèle Exarchopoulos and Léa Seydoux play teeneage lovers in the French erotic drama 'Blue Is The Warmest Colour' - The survey found four times as many women admitting to same-sex experiences than 20 years ago

TV
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Comedian Jack Dee has allegedly threatened to quit as chairman of long-running Radio 4 panel show 'I’m Sorry I Haven’t A Clue'

Edinburgh Festival
Arts and Entertainment
Director Paul Thomas Anderson (right) and his movie The Master featuring Joaquin Phoenix

film
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Christian Grey cradles Ana in the Fifty Shades of Grey film

film
Arts and Entertainment
There are no plans to replace R Kelly at the event

music
Arts and Entertainment
<p><strong>Laura
Carmichael- Lady Edith Crawley</strong></p>
<p>Carmichael currently stars as Sonya in the West End production of
Chekhov’s Uncle Vanya at the Vaudeville Theatre. She made headlines this autumn
when Royal Shakespeare Company founder Sir Peter Hall shouted at her in a
half-sleepy state during her performance. </p>
<p>Carmichael made another appearance on the stage in 2011, playing
two characters in David Hare’s <em>Plent</em>y
at the Crucible Theatre in Sheffield. </p>
<p>Away from the stage she starred as receptionist Sal in the 2011
film <em>Tinker Tailor Solider Spy</em>. </p>

TV
Arts and Entertainment

film
Arts and Entertainment
Zoe Saldana admits she's

TV
Arts and Entertainment
'Old Fashioned' will be a different kind of love story to '50 Shades'
film
Arts and Entertainment

film
Arts and Entertainment
The Great British Bake Off contestants line-up behind Sue and Mel in the Bake Off tent

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Mitch Winehouse is releasing a new album

music
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Beast would strip to his underpants and take to the stage with a slogan scrawled on his bare chest whilst fans shouted “you fat bastard” at him

music
Arts and Entertainment
On set of the Secret Cinema's Back to the Future event

film
Arts and Entertainment
Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman

film
Arts and Entertainment
Pedro Pascal gives a weird look at the camera in the blooper reel

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Public vote: Art Everywhere poster in a bus shelter featuring John Hoyland
art
Arts and Entertainment
Peter Griffin holds forth in The Simpsons Family Guy crossover episode

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Judd Apatow’s make-it-up-as-you-go-along approach is ideal for comedies about stoners and slackers slouching towards adulthood
filmWith comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on
Arts and Entertainment
booksForget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks
Arts and Entertainment
Off set: Bab El Hara
tvTV series are being filmed outside the country, but the influence of the regime is still being felt
Arts and Entertainment
Red Bastard: Where self-realisation is delivered through monstrous clowning and audience interaction
comedy
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Save the tiger: The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

    The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

    With only six per cent of the US population of these amazing big cats held in zoos, the Zanesville incident in 2011 was inevitable
    Samuel Beckett's biographer reveals secrets of the writer's time as a French Resistance spy

    How Samuel Beckett became a French Resistance spy

    As this year's Samuel Beckett festival opens in Enniskillen, James Knowlson, recalls how the Irish writer risked his life for liberty and narrowly escaped capture by the Gestapo
    We will remember them: relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War

    We will remember them

    Relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War
    Star Wars Episode VII is being shot on film - and now Kodak is launching a last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

    Kodak's last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

    Director J J Abrams and a few digital refuseniks shoot movies on film. Simon Usborne wonders what the fuss is about
    Once stilted and melodramatic, Hollywood is giving acting in video games a makeover

    Acting in video games gets a makeover

    David Crookes meets two of the genre's most popular voices
    Could our smartphones soon be diagnosing diseases via Health Kit and Google Fit?

    Could smartphones soon be diagnosing diseases?

    Health Kit and Google Fit have been described as "the beginning of a health revolution"
    Ryanair has turned on the 'charm offensive' but can we learn to love the cut-price carrier again?

    Can we learn to love Ryanair again?

    Four recent travellers give their verdicts on the carrier's improved customer service
    Billionaire founder of Spanx launches range of jeans that offers

    Spanx launches range of jeans

    The jeans come in two styles, multiple cuts and three washes and will go on sale in the UK in October
    10 best over-ear headphones

    Aural pleasure: 10 best over-ear headphones

    Listen to your favourite tracks with this selection, offering everything from lambskin earmuffs to stainless steel
    Commonwealth Games 2014: David Millar ready to serve up gold for his beloved Scotland in the end

    Commonwealth Games

    David Millar ready to serve up gold for his beloved Scotland in the end
    UCI Mountain Bike World Cup 2014: Downhill all the way to the top for the Atherton siblings

    UCI Mountain Bike World Cup

    Downhill all the way to the top for the Atherton siblings
    Save the tiger: The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

    The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

    The big cats kept in captivity to perform for paying audiences and then, when dead, their bodies used to fortify wine
    A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery all included in top 50 hidden spots in the UK

    A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery

    Introducing the top 50 hidden spots in Britain
    Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

    Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

    How a disease that has claimed fewer than 2,000 victims in its history has earned a place in the darkest corner of the public's imagination
    Chris Pratt: From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

    From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

    He was homeless in Hawaii when he got his big break. Now the comic actor Chris Pratt is Hollywood's new favourite action star