What possesses a person to believe murky and sometimes fantastical ideas on the Internet? And what drives some people to invent these fantastic myths?
Well, I am not the one to delve into the darkest places of the human psyche, but I feel that one must debunk the urban legends that surround the cell phone. Why? Because then, maybe, people can deal with the real problems we have with our infatuation with the sleek metal magic box called the cellular. So let’s start with the classics:
Popping Corn with a Cellphone
This is impossible, but that hasn’t stopped social media. You see a group of people place their phones on the table around some unpopped corn. Then the phones all start to ring and – lo and behold – the corn pops! Then the “crowd’ goes wild and says they will never use their phones again because the radiation from them is a killer! Look what it did to the corn! But it didn’t do it, did it. This is usually nothing more than a slight of hand and some clever camera work and editing. Here is one lovely example (a bit long and windy) of how you do it
This all starts because of one simple observation. The Microwave oven in your kitchen heats food by using radio waves to ‘excite’ the water molecules in it and that excitation turns to heat. So if a microwave oven uses similar frequencies as does a cellphone (it does) , then why can’t a cellphone do the same? Scientifically it is impossible. Did you ever ask yourself how much energy do you need to pop a kernel of corn? A very quick search of the net reveals the answer. Simply put, the corn pops because the water it contains (about 14% of its weight) turns to steam. That water is contained inside the kernel, almost like being in a pressure cooker, and this doesn’t happen until it reaches a temperature of 175 °C (on a stove it’s no problem). In energy units, you need to supply 35.62 kJ (kilojoule) of energy. To give you some proportion you would need 4,200 J to heat a liter of water by a degree. The maximum power a cellphone can supply is 1Watt (joule per second). In other words, the cellphone would need 35,620 seconds, or about 10 hours, to supply the kernel with that much energy. As the kernel would also lose that heat to the surroundings it is an impossible task. Use four or five or a hundred cellphones, it is an impossible task.
Boiling Eggs with a Cellphone
Same answer as popping corn. You just cannot supply that much energy with a cell phone.
So let’s turn to those doing the rounds with 5G.
5G Came from Military Research.
No, it didn’t. 5G is just a natural progression of cellphone technology. The “G” stands for “Generation”. Cellphones started way back in the Eighties and the 1st generation was little more than an analog radio linked to a telephone exchange, The 2nd generation was GSM, with the introduction of digital transmissions, SMS and Roaming. The 3rd Generation introduced us to data transmission and the 4th generation to internet. The 5th generation is supposed to make use of advances in antenna technology (beam profiling, transmission protocols) that can increase the number of users, the amount of data they can send and, most importantly to many techies, enable the Internet of Things (IoT). The Internet of Things is the wet dream (yes, I use the metaphor deliberately) of many a techie. The idea is that our devices that we rely on will be able to cut out the middle man – us – and talk to each other for our comfort. In some ways, it is the manifestation of Isaac Asimov’s vision in “I Robot” (Not the film with Will Smith. Read the book!) without the homicidal robots. Whether we really need mechanical slaves or not, has never been a question that the average techie would consider? They see only a mechanical Metropolis for the enlightened (this time see the film!). However, I digress to the world of sociology for which I am ill-equipped, being a Physicist.
5G is Weaponized Technology
I do not know how or where the “weaponization” myth starts but I can hazard a guess. During the late 1940s and early 50s there was a spurt in research into microwaves. This was new technology, and it was only then becoming possible to reach new frequency ranges. These were also the years of the Cold War, with intense enmity and distrust between the West and Soviet world. Both militaries were funding and actively carrying out research into applications for microwaves, principally into advanced Radar and communications. At the same time civilian uses for radio and TV transmissions were beginning to dominate. Needless to say, the CIA invested great effort to know what research the Soviets were doing and I imagine the KGB did the same for western research. Eventually the greater majority of these research programs resulted in little practical applications beyond communications and radar (a good example is the principle of frequency hopping in modern communications, an invention of Hedi Lamar during World War II). During the late 1990s and early 2000s some of the classified 1950s and 1970s CIA translations of soviet research were released and quickly made their way to the net. As these documents dealt with research into microwaves and they were from the CIA, they became the “smoking gun” and , hey presto, the myth begins. To make matters worse, in the early 2000s rumours begin to spread that the US Army had deployed an unusual method for crowd control, the “Active Denial System”. This is a Gyrotron – a device for making extremely high power radio waves – on the back of a truck with a 2 meter diameter parabolic reflecting mirror. This device creates a short pulse of electromagnetic energy which is directed onto a hostile crowd. If you are unfortunate enough to be in its path the feeling is so unpleasant that you immediately run away. This system does actually exist. However, a reality check. It works at 94 GHz, frequencies 50 times higher than those of the cellphone. It really is the size of truck and needs to produce a beam of 2 meters diameter and 2 GW power to have any effect. 2GW power is one thousand billion times the power of a cellphone. In other words, it has no relation to the world of cellular phones. But that never stopped a good conspiracy theory.
These two rather unrelated dribbles of information feature every time the weaponization of cellphones is mentioned. In our information saturated world if you say something loud enough and long enough it must be true……
When 5G Was Tested in The Hague Birds Fell Dead!
Many of us in the scientific community think that cellular networks, and for us 5G is just a natural progression of those networks, do have a negative impact on wildlife and on us. Our reasons for thinking so are rooted in hard science and experimentation. However, the story of birds simply falling out of the sky is pure invention. The story goes that in 2018 during a test of a 5G network in the Hague 300 starlings suddenly fell out of the sky dead. The problem as usual is in the details, like the birds dying in October when the test was in June. Birds do die en masse sometimes. It usually happens when they are trying to escape a predator, resulting in collisions from panic. But the power of a cellular transmission is not enough to kill them. This has been proven time and time again, yet the myth still persists. For a full description one can read https://fullfact.org/online/birds-5G-netherlands/.
Having said that, there are some very real concerns on what the effect of 5G cellular networks will be on wildlife, including insects and birds. But as I stated these are based on real science and real effects, some of which we are only beginning to appreciate as we begin to realise that the natural world exploits electromagnetic fields of which we, as humans, have only recently become aware. Anthropogenic electromagnetic noise in the AM radiofrequency range does disrupt bird navigation. Bees and insects may also be affected by our love of radio waves, according to a German study.
But the tales of birds falling from the sky as they are zapped by 5G are just inventions of problematic minds.
5G is a Method of Mind Control, Invented by Government to Dominate Us!
The Chinese system is often thrown up as “proof” of the nefarious intentions of “Government” for 5G. China has instigated a Social Credit System to monitor its citizens, involving mass surveillance. To our mind that is an unwarranted level of control by an authoritarian regime. However, many Chinese would disagree, pointing to an implicit pact between governance and citizenry, a Confucian ideal alien to a western mind, and to a feeling of safety in an increasingly precarious world. Coming to the point of this post, that system of control has been in place before 5G even started. So what about us?
We live in a society where we are constantly pumped by subliminal messages to convince us to buy stuff, where we have already surrendered out privacy by buying everything with credit cards, so leaving a record of what, where and when we spend our money. We handed our leisure over to a search engines when we search online for holidays, films, restaurants and often more “exotic” pleasures. We happily sign away our information for some app or some product in an online purchase. All this to faceless commercial corporations and businesses. And you’re worried about government control? Grow up!!
The growth of cellphones and cellular communications has always been driven from industry, never from the governments. “Control” of us is something that we have happily signed on for with the business world since advertising first started. In many instances it has been government that has sort to curtail this control over us by imposing fair trading standards and privacy laws! Here’s the thing, in our democratic systems (they still are on the whole) we have a measure of what a government can and cannot do. It isn’t government that tries to control us. We willingly allow business to do that.
There are many more myths out there, each more stupid than the other. There are also many malicious people who are willing to invent them and to promulgate them. There are also some very real questions that need to be asked about the 5G cellular revolution, about the role of technology in our lives and about who should be shaping our society. There are some very real health concerns about cellular radiation and its effects on us and our environment. Instead of addressing them we are talking about conspiracy theories.
I sometimes wonder if the conspiracy theory isn’t just a cunning smokescreen so that we do not ask the hard questions to an industry that is living in a bonanza that it hopes will never end.