Monday, October 14, 2013

We're All Technology's Guinea Pigs Now, Whether We Like It or Not

Becoming a guinea pig is the unspoken consequence of living in this, the second Industrial Revolution. Whereas the human guinea pigs in the first Industrial Revolution were indiscriminately subjected to new chemical compounds and air pollutants from recently built factories, we are immersed in new light wavelengths, electromagnetic clouds, radiation, and pathogens.

Those previous guinea pigs were calmed by cheery slogans like "Better Living Through Chemistry" while we are pacified by the existence of alphabet-soup agencies like the FCC, FDA and USDA. But while regulators are certainly more reassuring than empty corporate slogans, it doesn't change the fact that the long-term impacts of new technologies can only be determined over time. And that means whole populations become test subjects—whether they choose to participate or not.

The most notorious example is our widespread embrace of cell phones. As the first humans subjecting our skulls to close-range radio frequency energy on a moment-to-moment basis, we are a little like cigarette fiends in that smoky Mad Men era before the tobacco industry's admissions. We are the guinea pigs who will show future generations whether this particular telecommunications technology is truly safe. Because being part of such an experiment is creepy, lots of people don't like to discuss it— even though the scientific debate about cell phone radiation isn't settled. But hey, at least most of us are vaguely aware that cell phone use might come with human health implications.

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