4/16/2007

Are you prepared to give up your cell phone indefinitely?


Yesterday I wrote a brief post highlighting a recent study conducted at a German University which indicated that cell phones may be to blame for the sudden disappearence of 60-70% of the honey bees across the United States. Whether cell phones are the primary cause of this disturbing phenomenon is yet unknown, but with at least 1.75 billion cell phones in use around the world, it is apparent that if it were to be determined that the signal which they emit is responsible for the drastic decline in bee populations, there would have to be major steps taken to curb usage, maybe even shut down networks altogether for a period of time until alternative measures can be taken.

Cellular communication has become a near indispensible element of our daily interaction as human beings living and working in a developed country, and many of us would be lost in a world that has become consumed with communications technology. After coming to the realization that there were nearly 2 billion cell phones in service around the world, I began doing a bit more research about the rate of cell phone adoption in society. I was particularly interested to see if there has been a drastic, exponential growth in cell phone users in the last couple years, as this may explain why there had been no previous evidence to suggest bee populations could be at risk because of growth among subscribers. Even more intriguing are the predictions of social theorists and bloggers who have attempted to predict the impact on culture and civilization that these powerful devises will have in the near future.

An interesting post on found on Evolution Shift, David Houle ponders the implications of cellular proliferation in an evolutionary sense, and reaches the conclusion that the convergence of the internet, cellular communication and personal computing will come to a head between the years 2010 and 2015.
"As is often the case, a look into the future first entails a look back to the past. In 1984 there were 25,000 cell phones sold in the U.S. In 1990 that number had grown to 1,888,000 units sold, and in the year 2000 52,600,00 units were sold – a million phones a week! That number has continued to go up. Today, in a country of 300 million people – including infants, young children, and the aged – there are over 210 million active cell phone accounts."
Houle believes that the tipping point and the next social evolution of mankind will come when the world is universally connected, thereby eliminating the constraints of time and space from human communication, which has heretofore been limited in one of these dimensions. When pondering the potential for growth in the global cellular industry Houle states,

"There are now 6 million new subscribers a month in India and 5.25 million new subscribers a month in China. When these growth rates get projected out to 2010 and 2015 it is almost certain that the vast majority of nations in the world, including sub-Saharan countries will have a majority of their citizens using cell phones. This is nothing less than transformative. Some of the countries that will have a 50% plus penetration of cell phones to people are the same ones that a couple of decades ago have less than 10-20 regular phones per 100 people. Think about how much our lives in the U.S. have changed with cell phones. Now imagine it from a base where only 1 in 5 people had land line phones and you can begin to see transformation at work, and play."

An article from 2004 in Engadget claims that cell phone usage doubled in the first four years of the century, increasing from roughly 700 million to 1.4 billion, which is precisely the type of information I was looking for. Growth at such a n unprecedented rate and the accompanying surge in invisible cellular network coverage to meet the demand could feasibly explain why there was not a more gradual drop in the number of bees. It may well be that once we reached a certain point we had passed the point of no return, and I doubt that there will be any great slowdown in the adoption of cellular communication in developing countries because of the competitive advantage it offers to peoples previously isolated from the "civilized world".

This article is purely speculative, as I have no idea if there will ever be a crisis that would demand us to seriously consider the question posed at the outset of this article. However, the evidence presented by the German scientists is very compelling because of the clear correlation drawn between cellular signals and irregular reactions from domestic bee communities. The tragic events that occurred at Virginia Tech yesterday have drawn all attention away from the study and its findings, but I suspect this is only the first of many studies that will fight for the favor of the pop-media. I just hope the next wake up call is followed by another monumental tragedy, for if we ignore the issue too long we may inadvertently wait just long enough that talk is all we have time left to do...

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