It is one of the stark choices of modern life. Should we embrace new technology or stop its advance? All my life there has been a debate about this. Much of this has centred around radiation. More formally, the electromagnetic spectrum. But maybe it is time to decide. Is the future so dangerous we should withdraw from it?
I am inspired to write about this having learnt that there is a forthcoming meeting in Ludlow. Titled “5G is it safe?” and screaming that 5G is “weapons grade technology”, the leaflets say that wifi and mobile use has led to an increase in a huge number of health conditions. Everything from dementia, tumours, self-harm, and all sorts of cancers.
We don’t need this trash science. We do need all the communications bandwidth we can get in rural areas to compensate for the endless withdrawal services. And allow everyone, especially children, participate in the ever changing modern world.
There is risk to all new technologies. Way back in 1830, William Huskisson MP for Liverpool was the first to die in a railway accident. Bridgett Driscoll was the first pedestrian killed by a motor car a few decades later. Planes later crashed from the skies. Yet transport technologies have done much to create the we live in. Because we have made them as safe as we can.
Some still people fear new technology. We must remember that humans are well tuned to seeing the negative side of things. This is an ancient survival mechanism to keep us alert. But over the centuries, ambition, stupidity, exploitation and obsession with profits have led to disasters. Thalidomide, nuclear accidents, bridge collapses, asbestos, BSE, the list is very long. For some people the horrors have undermined confidence in progress.
We have seen many panics over new technology, including over mobile phones. In 2005, Sir William Stewart, a former government scientific adviser, recommended that children under eight should not use mobile phones and older children only use them for texting. This concern led to a cohort study, which will follow schoolchildren over decades. It will be several years before we see any conclusions.
This has not stopped children being surrounded by technology and welded to their mobile devices. Many parents try to limit this but their actions are more to help their children to do other things and to sleep, rather than because they are worried by risk.
Should we be worried by 5G? According to the leaflet for the forthcoming meeting in Ludlow:
“5G is a deadly killer… It ‘cooks’ all living tissues… like a microwave… Damages DNA… Causes stillbirths.”
There is an accompanying long list of things not to do. Never holding a mobile phone close to your face, throw out cordless phones, ditch the microwave. Don’t have a smart TV. I think from these quotes you can get the tenor of the hysteria behind the forthcoming Ludlow meeting.
This doesn’t make any sense. The electromagnetic spectrum for 5G lies between that that feeds transistor radios and that that powers microwave ovens. This is non-ionising radiation. That means it is not attacking your body, unlike getting a suntan, or having an X-ray or a CAT Scan.
Mobile phones are a vital part of modern life. They give us instant contact with people and immediate access to information. They advise us how to get from A to B, and when you get to B, where you might like to go. If your train is late or the motorway is jammed, you can first learn about on your phone.
But 5G promises much more. It introduces the Internet of Things. Personally, I am not much bothered about having my fridge talking to the cat feeder or my cat food provider. But I do want rural businesses to have access to the latest technology. I do want to modernise health provision at home to help keep people safe. Rural districts need to part of the changing world, not withdrawn from it.
We have time to think about 5G and discuss it. It is quite a long way away in Ludlow. Shropshire Connect says that 2021/22 is likely to be the earliest we will see this technology in Shropshire. Here in Ludlow, we are not likely to see 5G until later. After all, in our more rural areas, many people are still waiting for even a hint of mobile coverage. Our priority should be to get 4G available to everyone to keep South Shropshire thriving and support our residents.
In the meantime, we shouldn’t get distracted by hysteria that has no basis in science. But whatever your view, I would encourage you to respond to the government’s current consultation on relaxing planning restrictions for 5G infrastructure.