I’d like to propose a new condition into the medical lexicon:

Cellphonophobia – the fear that using a cell phone causes bodily harm, usually associated with avoidant behaviors that equate electromagnetic radiation with contagion.

Cellphonophobia is related to the obsessive-compulsive spectrum of disorders rather than those of the anxiety classification. Sufferers worry about being tainted with cancer-causing radiation emitted from their cell phone transmitters in much the same way that those with OCD worry about germs. Instead of compulsive hand washing, cellphonophobics use hands-free earpieces and speaker phones to achieve maximum separation from the cell phone. They prefer texting to talking, and turn off their cell phones when not in use. They may even give up the technology entirely and revert to landline use in all but emergencies.

Unlike telephonophobia, in which there is a social phobia about picking up the phone or making a phone call because of the other person on the line, cellphonobia is all about contamination.

I know this because I have a mild form of this condition. But as Nirvana sang: just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean they’re not after you. Or something like that.

According to Wikipedia, “The World Health Organization, based upon the consensus view of the scientific and medical communities, has stated in the past that cancer is unlikely to be caused by cellular phones or their base stations and that reviews have found no convincing evidence for other health effects.” But consider some of the loose details out there that merit consideration:

~75% of scientific studies not funded by the cell phone industry find adverse health effects in people using cell phones. Only 25% of studies funded by cell phone companies find any problems.  (Specific studies with yeh or nay conclusions can be reviewed by following the first linked reference at the bottom of this post)

~The largest tax payer-funded, international study to date called INTERPHONE found an increase in brain tumors over 10 years in people who reported using cell phones often, or no increase in brain tumors depending on whose interpretation you read about in the press (see references below)!
The results and conclusions of the study are mired in debate so it has not been officially published yet. The methodology of the study is flawed by the recall bias of the participants. Hopefully it will be published later this year for contentious peer-review.

~Hands-free earpieces may be better than putting a cell phone to your ear, but the wire still conducts cell phone radiation, emitting it into your body and head anyway. It’s considered better than direct contact with the antennae, but not by much according to some experts and at least one journal article.

~Some say that Wifi signals from your laptop to your internet router may not be that great either. Having a laptop on your actual lap is probably not a good idea, but the intensity of exposure decreases rapidly with distance away from your body. Some hypothesize that concentrated non-ionizing radiation may still trigger harmful effects in the body, indirectly through downstream cellular mediators instead of direct DNA damage.

~Cell phone towers are ubiquitous in urban areas, and emit a constant low level of electromagnetic radiation. One study out of France found that fatigue, headache, sleep disruption, and loss of memory were among the symptoms reported more frequently by people living closer to cell phone towers than others, although this study could certainly have been subject to the nocebo effect.

~Children’s brains and bodies are particularly sensitive to radiation. Their thinner skulls permit double the amount of radiation to get absorbed. Most experts recommend limiting cell phone use in children as a matter of “just in case.” Teachers and family doctors trying to communicate with children would certainly benefit from their lessened distraction.

~Texting emits comparatively little electromagnetic radiation, although…

~Cell phones are also constantly emitting a low level of radiation as they seek out and maintain contact with base stations, especially in rural areas. This is why your battery doesn’t last as long in rural places. Not much energy, but could be significant if you sleep with the phone turned on next to your bed every night.

~Holding a cell phone by your waist or keeping it in your pocket while it is turned on/in use may be bad, too. Soft tissues, gonads, and muscles definitely absorb cell phone radiation to a greater extent than bone, which might slightly “protect” the brain.

These are some of the loose details out there that feed phobias. I don’t know if cell phones cause cancer, but if I had to guess based on the current evidence, I would lean towards thinking they might increase risk, albeit slightly and related to duration of cell phone use and power. But then again so many things increase our risk. Saturated fat. Radon in the basement. Red meat from Chernobyl. I’d like to hear what you think. I don’t know.

I’d also like to know if you suffer from any of the hysterical cellphonophobia that I’ve seen in my office, and felt in my own mind at times. Have you thought about ditching your cell phone just in case the paranoia is slightly justified?

Not having a cell phone is becoming increasingly incompatible with modern social life. Soon not having a smart phone with a constant stream of information, tweets, texts, and emails will be Amish-worthy. Perhaps my mild cellphonophobia is just a neurotic means of validating my underlying contempt for being plugged in all the time.

How inspiring it is to walk through a forest with silence and no wires attached.

How “clean.”

And yes, I do want the vintage telephone pictured atop this post. At the very least it’s funkier, if not healthier than an iPhone.

More reading for cellphonophobiacs:



7 thoughts on “Cellphonophobia

  1. robin andrea

    My older brother has cellphonophobia. It equally extends to his refusal to have a wireless internet connection. I actually admire his steadfastness about this, although he’s probably still being bombarded by electromagnetic radiation just in the course of everyday modern life. He has attempted to limit his exposure. In a decade will we all regret this connection insanity?

    I can tell I’m part of the “older generation” because I don’t have a desire to be connected all the time. I don’t text or tweet. I am accustomed to having high speed internet, but in our new house our download speed is only 3.0 mps. I said to Roger the other day, even though we’ve had download speeds twice as fast or more, it’s like we’ve grown up on this speed. It doesn’t bother us to wait 3 seconds more for a site to load. Ah, such patience!

  2. Kendra

    Great post. I also suffer from a mild form of “cellphonaphobia.” But my phobia is more related to actually talking on the phone, versus a fear of radiation and such. I think it’s not uncommon in my generation. I have become so accustomed to emails and texting, that actual verbal contact is sometimes scary. I know it’s an unreasonable fear, but I have it anyway. But that’s what phobias are all about!

  3. Wren

    I don’t like cellphones either, Dr. Charles, but it’s not because I’m afraid of the radiation. It’s because I’ve never liked talking on any kind of phone, period. I like to see people when I talk to them. And the signal quality of cellphones isn’t very good. We have all these neat bells and whistles, but can often barely make out what the other person is saying. The old phones were a lot better that way. Bluetooth — I absolutely hate talking to someone using a Bluetooth.
    And yes, I do have a cellphone. I gave up my landline because it seemed stupid to pay two phone bills every month. In this society and in this age, you can’t do without a phone, I guess.

  4. emmy

    My issue with the cell phone is that I dislike having an electronic leash. I passively agressively leave it on the charger a lot of the time.

  5. chairman meow

    i think the analogy is good about living under power lines. there are probably dozens of mildly toxic everyday contributers to cancer in the world today including cell phone use. it’s hard to avoid most of them, including eating seafood, (mercury) most vegetables, (pesticides) etc. etc. — in general, the key thing to note in the cell phone debate is that much of the “science” out there has been funded by the companies who profit directly from the cell phone industry. I don’t think that most people are comfortable standing next to the microwave when it’s on, and i feel the same way about frequent, long conversations on my cell phone.

    I have a friend who is a business owner who spent hours a day on his cell phone until they discovered a massive brain tumor behind his left ear. (where he would rest the phone) it could be a coincidence, but to me it looks like his cell phone use may have increased his odds of getting the tumor.

    The bottom line is that no matter what the various scientific data says, intuition should still help us make our own decisions.

  6. No Rad

    Cell phone emits electromagnetic radiation with cause me pain.
    I am not a technophobic person; I work at the high-tech industry.
    I love gadgets and electronic equipment, so I am not a phobic , I just know, cell phone emits electromagnetic radiation, and exposure to electromagnetic radiation cause health issues.

  7. Susan Kramss

    I not cellphonaphobia, I just prefer not be a prisoner to technology when I’m out and about. I’ve yet to understand why people pay hundreads of dollars to go to a concert just to talk on their cellphone or text the entire time. For me it’s there for an emergengy and nothing else. There again I’m old school.

    I too have a cousin who worked in sales, contantly on the road and constantly with a cell phone up to her ear. She developed a massive tumor also right behind the ear to which she used to hold that phone. Now deaf in one ear, she has cut back on cell phone use. Not ready to take any more chances. Can you blame her?

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