Monday, November 07, 2011

Sensitive and Inside Big Technology: Views from the Other Side (Part One)

Sensitive and Inside Big Technology: Views from the Other Side (Part One)

This is part one of a four-part piece based on interviews with people inside the high-tech industry who’ve become electro-sensitive and begun to question the silence that pervades their field on the matter. To protect their future ability to find work, we’ve used pseudonyms.

Located in the Pacific Northwest, ‘Nora Wood’ has worked in high tech for many years, but now finds herself reckoning with the effect her work environment is having on her health and well-being. She sees a lot of good in technology when it’s wisely used. She’s in her mid-forties and has a sharp mind.
It was a six-month period of working at home, between stints doing high-tech office-based work, that brought the problem to the fore. She felt better at home, but then when she started up her current temporary contract with a major tech company, the troubles returned: hair-trigger irritability, sleep problems, and brain-fog. In the office job before the stretch at home, she’d noticed the wifi routers directly over her workspace, but hadn’t put the pieces together.
“I remember thinking, even early on, that it can’t be good to have cell phone repeaters bouncing the signal around inside a shielded office building.” Now she was determined to find out what was causing her problems.  She read up online, and got an RF meter, which confirmed that indeed there were high levels around her workspace. One time her Cornet meter topped out with a spike 100 microwatts per square centimeter (µW/cm2), with base levels of 1 to 3 µW/cm2. (Compare to the Bioinitiative Report recommendation of 0.1 µW/cm2 maximum human exposure.) In addition, she became aware of how a nearby cell tower was part of her home environment. She’s done some rearranging and shielding at home, but at work there’s less she can do, working in an open room with others. She has a grounding pad under her desk, which has helped her feel better at work.
Has she broached the subject with coworkers or management? “They’ve seen me using my grounding pad, but I don’t think they want to hear there is anything wrong with their work environment.”  She’s tried to explain the way the pad worked in terms of free-radicals and positively charged electrons, “but they still think it’s tin-foil-hat weirdness.”
“They were interested in the RF meter, until I told them the levels I was getting, and they were like, ‘Yeah, but there’s no evidence, no research that’s a problem.’ People in tech are defensive about radio-frequency, because any question about it is going to disrupt their whole world view.”
“If I go full time, I might be able to get my work area configured for some shielding. I don’t think I can work for a huge corporation like Google or Amazon, where I’d have to work on-site every day, all day. But those are the jobs that pay.”
The industry will be squeezing out the older worker faster, as the environment gets saturated with RF, and the denial gets thicker, and more people become ill. “I don’t know how much longer I can do this. My brain isn’t working as well. I feel like I’m doing lesser quality work, and that people perceive me as less smart.” High-tech work is and will be disabling its workers, while the industry refuses to admit the fact.
What will she do in a few months when her contract ends, and she needs another job? She’ll definitely be considering RF exposure when choosing where to work. “I’ll be looking at the set-up, and comparing it to what I already know. I can get creative with questions during the interview, to find out about the wireless coverage in the building without letting them know I’m trying to assess potential exposure. I could also have my meter on inside my handbag, and see what the spikes are, without bringing it out.”
‘Nora’ believes tech has a lot of potential to help people and promote social good, and she cites the example of farmers in Africa texting to get market prices, giving them real bargaining power, rather than relying on the word of deceiving middlemen. “It’s just a shame that there is this horrific other side to it. I’m really conflicted.”
So could technology itself help people address or mitigate exposures? One company, Tawkon (see also this article), has created an app that calculates and displays the likely radiation exposure for the user at any given time, along with a load related features (of course). Apple recently blocked this app for iPhone, though. ‘Nora’ believes open-source Google Android has a better chance of being the venue for radiation-related apps, because there is complete freedom for individual programmers to introduce ideas that could never fly in a top-down corporation like Apple.
“Sharing information is crucial. If you can get a certain number of engineers engaged and understanding the issue, they can create ways to make the technology less detrimental. Like, make it so when your phone rang, it would turn all the other unnecessary stuff off, all the synching, GPS—while it’s near your head.”  Once she gets going, there’s a flow of ideas. “You could use the accelerometer inside the phone to sense speed, and shut off automatic connections when you are moving over a certain speed, like in a car,”—that’s when radiation levels from the phone go up. There could be great scope for creativity—once the industry silence has cracked open.
For ‘Nora’ this is a wide-open field full of interesting problems to be solved. She’s a software engineer at heart, and the only difference between her and her co-workers, is that she knows firsthand that this is a problem to work on. But unfortunately, even a load of engineers working wisely to mitigate personal exposure from phones will not address the issue of the ambient, whole-body, 24/7 radio-frequency most of us are exposed to. Indeed, it was the work environment, not personal phone use, that made ‘Nora’ ill.
We hope she can stay in the game long enough to use her brains and her experience to help educate others and eliminate some of the frivolous exposure that people get, simply because nearly the whole industry is in deep and total denial.
It’s clear that if ‘smart’ meter engineers had also been addressing the problem of reducing human exposure to RF, they could have designed a very different device, one that accounted for human health and well-being, not merely corporate convenience and profit.

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