Effect Measure

Another phone hazard

Every time I write about the hazard of phones some readers flip out. The hazards of non-ionizing radiation, whatever the evidence (and it is controverted, difficult, ambiguous and contradictory), seems to acquire a junk science label from people who don’t have much training or experience in evaluating the kind of evidence that forms the basis for some of the claims. OK, rant over. This isn’t about the hazards of non-ionizing radiation. But it is about a health hazard from telephones:

Constantly cradling a telephone receiver between the shoulder and ear to free the hands for other work can lead to strokes, according to Chinese University of Hong Kong medical professors.

Stroke cases due to injury of blood vessels in the neck have been reported once every three months at Prince of Wales Hospital for the past two years, with the average age of victims at 47 years old, mostly men. (The Standard [Hong Kong])

The explanation of the Hong Kong doctors is that the two major arterial sources of the brain, the carotid and vertebral arteries, are structurally vulnerable to compression or tears of certain segments when the neck is overextended. This partially interrupts flow to the brain. The result is something that looks like a stroke. Sudden lightheadedness or vertigo (sensation of the room spinning around), nausea, unsteady gait, or even one sided weakness or an area of numbness somewhere.

The cases seem to be more common in males under the age of 50, but that may be that these are the people who try to use both hands when they talk on the phone. Since I don’t like to talk on the phone, it’s one less thing I have to worry about.


  1. #1 Dylan
    June 27, 2008

    People who actually enjoy talking on a cell phone, or even over a land-line, constitute, in my opinion, a very dangerous contribution to the gene pool. The pointless, ceaseless, ubiquitous, omnipresent blather, that uselessly circulates, harmlessly, at least, within the confines of their own axon and dendrite deficient craniums, is now free to circulate among their various associates; who, of course, are equally vacuous.

    If all cell phone conversations could be collectively archived for posterity, I do not doubt at all that this would constitute the single largest, and most comprehensive collection of idiot exchanges ever encountered in one place, in the entire known universe. Surpassing, possibly, even the heavily redacted, collected papers of the George W. Bush Administration. This should direct our attention, to some extent, to what is truly wrong with our Republic.

    I owned a cell phone, once, about twelve years ago; I never had occasion to use it, even for one single conversation; I gave it to my step-daughter. Even though I harbor her no animosity. Please do not attempt to bore me with comparisons between the Internet and the cell-phone. I do not have to read what you write; nor do I have to respond to it. If I do read it, and decide that I don’t agree with your opinion, there will likely follow a perpetual pregnant pause. After a while, you’ll likely figure out what that means.

    California will soon institute a hands-free, cell-phone usage law; this will mean that when you observe some remarkably animated, vacuous appearing, totally inattentive bozo…maneuvering their vehicle in dangerously close proximity to your own, he/she is either a lunatic, or is actively engaged in a complete waste of oxygen…or both.

    I cherish annonymity, and the ability to lead an existence that is very free — in large portion — to determine where, and with whom, I will engage in an encounter of almost any sort. I view this sort of latitude as essential to my being; but I also recognize that this is not the same for everybody. Were that the case, the planet would have a much smaller population. And there would be no cell phones.

    Time to stop; it has occurred to me that Revere has access to my email address.

  2. #2 revere
    June 27, 2008

    Dylan: Yes, I have your email but I need your telephone number. I’d like to discuss this with you.

  3. #3 Dylan
    June 27, 2008

    I’ll email it to you, Revere, just as soon as the Gestapo has been removed from office. The answering machine has a very, very succinct message. Something along the lines of “if you think that you want to talk to me, then you obviously have the wrong person.”

  4. #4 C. Corax
    June 27, 2008

    Watching the students on campus is always interesting, and I’ve noticed female students, more so than male students, cradling their phones that way, even when they have a hand free. I see chiropractors in their future.

    Also, students who are talking on cell phones also are much more apt to step out in front of cars without looking first.

    Dylan, don’t you mean “If you think you want to talk to me, then you obviously are the wrong person”?

  5. #5 pft
    June 27, 2008

    Imagine how much fun we will have when airlines provide cell phone service, and there will be no escape.

    Consider the giga-man hours lost in conference calls, where a group of 20 senior managers from varying time zones across the world ranging from 6 AM to midnight engage in debate; normally with as few as 5-6 having anything relevant to say in the 1-2 hr call. Background sounds include the flushes from those performing their morning ablutions to snores from those at the end of an 18 hr day as they nod off , exclamations as morning coffee is spilled, chewing noises and burps from those trying to work in lunch, on the road participants contribute with horn blowing, children crying in the background, telephones ringing, boarding call announcements, giggles, moans and gasps of pleasure that I can only imagine, etc. Makes you wonder how this company ever made it and if the end is near.

    Often during the call, I send email with my blackberry to one of the participants asking if they are really listening to this mindnumbing cluster f*ck that drones on and on about something that could have been communicated by 1 mb email. More often than not, the call concludes that further email communication is needed prior to the next conference call, in which it is hoped a consensus decision can be reached. Then the follow up conference calls to reach a consensus decision on how to fix the mess that previous consensus decision inevitably cause.

    Being at the late night end of many of thes calls, as I nod off to sleep I am comforted that we are part of a cartel, and our CEO meets regularly with the other CEO’s to make sure competition is kept to a minimum. This explains our survival amongst such mindless and counter productive practices. The cell phone and the cult of the conference call has ensured that whatever minds capable of thought that still exist are so preoccupied and enaged in mindless unproductive practices, that ET could roll in with his army and take over world while people run from conference call to meeting, sending blackberry messages in between and are completely oblivious until whatever goes on interferes with a meeting or conference call, or god forbid, their blackberry. Then their would be hell to pay.

    The world has gone mad.

  6. #6 MoM
    June 27, 2008

    I missed something here. (I didn’t follow the link to the whole article, maybe that’s why.) Anyway, I didn’t see that this was particularly related to CELL phone use. People have for years been getting cricks in their necks by holding a regular phone up to their ear with their shoulder. To the point that the nice folks at AT&T (and others) will sell you a nifty cushion to keep you from throwing your back out of whack whilst you use their instrument. http://www.abcplas.com/pages/RAP_about.html

  7. #7 revere
    June 27, 2008

    MoM: No, you didn’t miss anything. I was just ranting about having any hazard involving cell phones labeled junk science by people who don’t really understand the science (which is complicated and messy). Then I went on to discuss a hazard of phones in general. It’s sort of what you get when you are just off a plane you almost missed because you couldn’t get a cab in a strange city and you got to the gate just as the doors were closing, huffing and puffing and sweating like a stuck pig and then too tired to blog on the airplane so you had to do it when you finally got home before going to bed after having gotten up at 4:15 am, etc., etc.

  8. #8 Lea
    June 27, 2008

    Take care revere, you are a valuable part of my life.

  9. #9 neil
    June 29, 2008


    “Dylan: Yes, I have your email but I need your telephone number. I’d like to discuss this with you.”


    And the rejoinder sclres. Touche.

  10. #10 Adrian
    June 29, 2008

    I’ve tried to cradle a telephone handset between my ear and my shoulder, and I simply cannot do it. I suspect the problem is with my rather freakishly long neck.

  11. #11 Ana
    June 30, 2008

    I wish they would ban cell phones in supermarkets. The lunatic chatter interferes with my so called shopping enjoyment and sometimes sends me into Beckettian despair.

    ____honey that one there hah it has kinda like the red star on the front its not the blue you know/ yeah more fat I guess / more lotsa fat / huh? i dont see that? / lemme look down below / no…./ nothing / well something but not that / allgone i guess / less fat? / no / ask/ ask what honey? / oh / naaahhh / nobody / none i tell you

  12. #12 BW
    June 30, 2008

    It might be wise to consider extra listeners when we have public cel phone conversations. About a year ago, on a train from Chicago, we, and the rest of the “audience,” heard one side of a conversation between a woman and her boyfriend–having phone sex. A few of us found the conversation hilariously funny, but a group of teens (evidently a church group) seemed shocked.

  13. #13 g336
    July 4, 2008

    Telephone switching systems engineer here.

    I would bet that this problem is also related more to cellphones than to landlines.

    The standards for landline telephone receivers evolved over a period of about 90 years (from the first one designed by Lars Magnus Ericsson, yes, that Ericsson) to the full maturity of design in the 1930s through the 1970s. The USA standard was reflected ultimately in the Western Electric G3 handset as used on the still-familiar type 500 dial phone (and similar types by other manufacturers) and in the UK the equivalent handset was used on the type 706 (first popularized as the “Modern Telephone” or “Mod-T” for short) and the 746.

    These handsets (and their predecessors, e.g. WE F1 and GPO 164) were designed for optimum ergonomics. They could be held on the shoulder without excessive strain on the neck. Subsequent designs such as the WE K1 and Trimline met the same standards with the same results. I also happen to have examples of dial phones from China (where the neck report was published) from the 60s and 70s, and those handsets are also ergonomically correct.

    Then we come to the now-upiquitous cellphone. Designed by so-called industrial designers who have no clue about telephony and less clue about ergonomics, these acoustical nightmares in shiny packages are almost impossible to hold on the shoulder without doing to one’s own neck what the torturers at Gitmo probably do routinely to the necks of hapless Afghanis and Iraqis.

    No doubt the cellphone handsets are far more often a cause of these stroke-like disorders, than the landline handsets. BTW, I don’t have a cellphone. I do use a hands-free hard-wired headset at my desk when I have to talk and take notes.

    And here (HEY REVERE check this out!) we may have an interaction between two independent variables, the compression of blood vessels leading to the brain, and the occurrence of brain tumors. Is it be possible that reduced blood flow to part of the brain could be a factor in the development of tumors? If this is the case, then we should see a greater incidence of brain tumors in those individuals whose cellphone usage includes a greater amount of holding the phone on their shoulder, compared to those individuals who hold the phone in their hands while talking. Someone could get a paper published on this subject if they could get hold of enough raw data.

    And now on to Dylan et. al. and rants about telephones in general.

    Dylan, you might be pleased to know that you are following in the footsteps of many a puritan of the late 19th and early 20th century, who ranted at great length about the “abuse” of the telephone for “social purposes,” notably (in the sexist language of the time) “the endless chatter and gossip of women!”

    I have seen editorial cartoons in telephone industry trade journals of the time, showing angry men ranting about women on the phone, and in one case, depicting an invention that would deliver electrical shocks to people who talked for longer than five minutes on public telephones. In the latter case, the cartoon showed a line of telephone booths with people going “Oww!” and being knocked dizzy on the floor by the shocks.

    So yeah, you’re in good company.

    Now, PFT, re your conference calls. In fact most business meetings are of exactly the inane sort that you describe, plus effects that cannot be picked up by a telephone handset such as the sound and smell of the gaseous consequences of large cups of coffee.

    There is however one benefit to conference calls, which is that they reduce the needless us of transportation. Revere, how was it on those flights, eh? And those hotels? Were you halfway as alert for your meetings as you would have been if you had done “the thirty-second commute” from your breakfast table to a home office desk?

    Not only that, but consider another gaseous emission, the CO2 from fossil fuel combustion. That is going to end up killing us far more surely than strokes from twisted necks. Anything that reduces net climate impact is a good thing. Consider the gasoline you burn in order to go to an office cubicle daily. In contrast, your landline telephone uses 2.8 watts of electricity while you are talking, less than a watt while the bell is ringing, and exactly nothing while it is sitting there idle.

    Last but not least, about those nitwits who blabber on cellphones at the grocery store. Next time you are subjected to one of those, just imagine the conversation if they were in… hmm, how can we say this?…. in an “adult novelties” store? “Hi honey, I’m over here at Polly’s Pornies… yes, the dil-, yes, I’m looking at them right now… the red one?, I don’t know about that it seems a bit too garish, how about the orange one?… Yes, the batt-, yes, I’ll get an AC adaptor… Hey should I pick up a couple of movies while I’m here? Horses, are you serious?… OK, whatever, horses, fine. As long as you don’t mind me watching the one with the gals in leather on the Harleys…. OK, good…. Love you, bye.”

    If you think of this at the grocery store, you might burst out laughing like a silly goose. But that could be good. If the cellphone pest next to you asks, you can always tell them: “Yes, I was imagining a conversation like the one you just had, but in an adult novelties store.”


  14. #14 Dylan
    July 7, 2008

    g336: You misunderstand. My remarks are not directed at the advance of “technology,” in general; they are entirely intended to point out that, at times, this technology ends up as a form of “environmentally, communicational land-fill.” I’m neither a sexist (that was a fairly nasty, unwarranted, straw-man argument, there, by the way); nor am I a technological Luddite.

    The expansion of this technology does not — in any way — enhance the overall “quality” of communication; it only acts to enhance its overall “capacity.” Technology is a product of the “mind;” and not the other way around.

    By the way, are you old enough to have shared a “party line,” in a rural environment? I am. The “endless chatter and gossip of women” was not the figment of some cultural, sexist imagination. It was simply the way things were. I was there. Were you?

  15. #15 Clara Noble
    February 23, 2010

    I looking for someone who can tell me if there is a phobia for having to talk constantly on the telephone not necessarily on the cell phone.

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