It goes like this: We are all made of energy, electromagnetic waves and harmonic vibrations and a zillion throbbing electro-particles pulsing and spinning in quietly charged fields, all manner of happy ions floating in micro oceans of water and blood and vodka and we are humming and singing in what is ostensibly some sort of perfect divine balance of harmony and love and rainbow-shaped joy.
And then, life happens. Progress. Technology. Cars and light bulbs and microwaves and cell phones and iPods and giant orange variable-speed KitchenAid blenders, all causing a billion invisible radioactive bolts to zing through the air like ghosts of sad destiny, like imperceptible projectiles of doom, all invariably disrupting our precious bodily vibes and penetrating our cell structures and molesting our brain waves and sending us cartwheeling toward early cancer and death and decay and really lousy Internet connectivity at the goddamn airport.
This, you might say, is the downside of existing. Everything we create wants to kill us. Everything we invent or lick or insert into our orifices actually erodes our very beings and slowly eats away at our life force and wants us dead dead dead because, well, this is just the way it works: You're born, gravity grabs hold and it's pretty much all downhill from there. And God went, shrug.
The best part of all: The list of dangers gets longer by the minute.
Latest example: wi-fi. It is, apparently, the bitchin' new death-threat du jour, coming hot on the heels of cell phones and microwaves and power lines - all of which, as we all know, cause certain brain cancer, at least in some laboratory mice, which of course might simply mean that laboratory mice should never, ever microwave their wi-fi cell phones near a power line. But never mind that now.
It's an issue. It's a hip new fear. Radiation and electromagnetic fields (EMFs) pumped out by all the scary new wi-fi hubs are washing over us like buckets of hot Velveeta almost nonstop, and it's only getting crazier and more concentrated by the minute as technology advances and cell phones proliferate and wi-fi reaches its slippery invisible fingers into every nook and cranny and Starbucks in the universe.
So, how do you slow the bombardment? How do you deflect? Do you buy yourself, say, a nice purple plate and some EMF protection body spray and never, ever rub your face against the microwave oven? Or does our love of wireless technology and surfing for cheap porn and buying crap on eBay over your iPhone spell imminent doom for us all?
Europe is, apparently, all over it. The European Environmental Agency has already issued some sort of vague warning to the populace that current radiation limits are "thousands of times too lenient" and that wi-fi and cell phones are (maybe, probably) really, really bad, so bad that they can't even fathom just how bad because the technology is multiplying so quickly it's creating radiation levels "unprecedented in human history." Which sounds pretty bad indeed.
(Side note: I just love this one weird little cognitive study sent to me by a friend recently; it claims that spending a mere 20 seconds on a cell phone will disrupt a child's ability to learn for up to two hours. I mean, wow.
I do not exactly know what this means. I do not know if, after saying hi to grandma on the Nokia, the kid starts drooling and stuttering and suddenly wants to vote for Mitt Romney, or if she suddenly can't walk, or learn advanced calculus, or solve world hunger.
What the study fails to mention, of course, is that watching five minutes of "American Idol" will set your kid's brain back six years, or that bible camp will likely stunt genital development for 20 years, or that joining the Republican Party will turn the dial of your kid's planetary awareness to that of a bedwetting homoerotically repressed 11-year-old boy, and lock it there for life. Maybe that's an upcoming study).
So then, where is the threshold? How alarmed should you be? Is the EMF threat just exaggerated silliness, just fear of the new and the misunderstood, much like the terrified "experts" who saw the first metal bicycles back in the 1800s and believed that, at the crazy rates of speed those gadgets could attain, the wind pressure would be so intense it would actually peel the skin from your face? Should our government step in and set new limits and ban wi-fi from schools and kindergartens and Gymboree?
I do not mean to make too much light. I actually do believe, at least a little, that unchecked levels of EMFs can't really be all that healthy, that danger does indeed lurk in our obsession with more/better/shinier/faster technologies and that the ominous hazards and the ongoing wash of radiation may be invisible and silent but that doesn't mean they're not as lethal and corrosive as, say, that feeling you get watching Dick Cheney breathe.
This is where it gets tricky. Convoluted. Because I'm very much of the mind that certain megacorporations and demonic industries of the world could not give a flying crap about humanity in relation to profits, would stop at almost nothing to beef up their bottom lines at the expense of human life. (Hi, Monsanto/Dow/ConAgra!)
So then, is there a giant cover-up? A massive conspiracy? Is Verizon in bed with AT&T and Nokia and Motorola and Google and Earthlink, and are they all much like, say, the toxic slaughterhouses of the early 1900s or the oil/pesticide/tobacco industries of 1998, lying and lobbying and creeping their way into your wallet by way of poisoning your bloodstream?
Or is it more like, say, the big silly Y2K scare, all hype and panic and total imminent meltdown of the entire known universe, except that it wasn't?
Answer: No one has the slightest clue. Or rather, that's about all we really have: haphazard clues, vague extrapolations, tiny hints of possibility, all wrapped in those sweet, timeless, chthonic whispers pointing to our imminent demise. You know, same as it ever was.
Maybe it's better, as it so often is, to take the larger view, the one that says yes, sure, absolutely be aware of the dangers and minimize where you can and watch for abuse and keep close tabs on the cellular/wi-fi bigwigs, because there is certainly no historical precedent that says such corporations won't sell the very marrow from your bones for an uptick in their stock price.
But at the same time, I think it's always delightfully good to keep in mind that happy note of divine fatalism, the notion that life is pretty much always, every minute, working very, very hard to kill you. But in a really nice way.
Quietly, slowly, bit by bit and blink by blink and often with a smile and an organic chai tea and a big green salad and a whole steaming pile of free wi-fi at the coffee shop so you can post semi-naked pix to your Flickr stream and download the new Radiohead and flirt mightily with the hot barista and silently sing the praises of a divinely weird, messy, radioactive universe.
All told, not a bad way to go, really.
Thoughts for the author? E-mail him. Mark Morford's Notes & Errata column appears every Wednesday and Friday on SFGate and in the Datebook section of the San Francisco Chronicle.
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