Vol. 62 March 1, 2012 Technological Diseases, or NOT

“Diagnosis: bicycle face
A Brief History of Technological Diseases That Weren’t
A quick tour through these long-vanished ailments is a gentle reminder that whatever problems technology causes, sometimes a disease says as much about our anxieties as it does about our gadgets.”
– Latif Nasser, Boston Globe Ideas, Feb 12, 2012


. For example: bicycle face, “an expression either arduous, irritable, or at best stony”  in the 1890s. Today we might call it  “joggers face” (have you ever seen one with a smile on their face?). No less an authority than Scientific American magazine warned against elevator sickness in 1892 caused by “the movement of internal organs during the sudden stopping of the elevator.”  In 1906 bicycle face seems to have been displaced by automania, “dreams of speed,  intolerance of police officers, and a facial expression verging on the satanical” according to the JAMA.  In the 1950s JAMA  began cautioning people, particularly teenagers, about television neck caused by craning one’s neck to see those small screens “which could lead to  permanent inflexibility”.   Television legs, “lack of flexibility below the waist”, became a separate spin-off diagnosis. A more recent technological non-disease is “phantom ring” or “ringxiety” as described by the NY Times in 2006. This condition develops in the person who is so highly conditioned to hear their cell phone ring that they pick it up when it does not ring. What current diagnoses might we look back at as non-diseases with the bemused wisdom brought on by the passage of time?

A major study of nearly 360,000 cellphone users in Denmark found no increased risk of brain tumors with long-term use. The investigators noted that the design of the study focused on cellphone subscriptions rather than actual use, so it is unlikely to settle the debate about cellphone safety. A small to moderate increase in risk of cancer among heavy users of cellphones for 10 to 15 years or longer still “cannot be ruled out,” the investigators wrote. (1) “Many stones have been lifted, but little has been found. While there is little reason to expect anything to be found beneath the next stone, some uncertainty remains.”
In 2006 World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer announced that it believed cell phones were a “possible” carcinogen, putting them in the same category as diesel fumes, dry cleaning fluid, talcum powder, and coffee. “They are making a mistake.”

“Recently installed at the New Look store in London’s Westfield Stratford mall, Bodymetrics’ scanning booth looks like a change room, but instead of mirrors inside you’ll find a set of eight PrimeSense 3D laser sensors. As the lasers scan up and down your body they make a hundred different measurements which are then processed by the company’s body shape analytics to provide recommendations on what style and size of jeans will fit you the best. The scanning booth is said to be “a fraction of the cost of previous body scanners”.
“I don’t think I’d mind the TSA’s own full body scanners if they let me know I was safe to fly and would look great in a size 32.”
So, airport body scanners, NO! Retail clothing store scanners, OK!
And wouldn’t you know it, but “there is an App for that”!  Don’t waste your time linking to it because the reviews call it ridiculously stupid by merely replacing cell phone pictures you take of friends with stock pictures of other unclothed people, plus I couldn’t run a demo of it in iTunes.

A 2009 expert panel review (2), described as being the most comprehensive to date, delved into the possible adverse health effects of those living close to wind turbines. Their report findings concluded that wind turbines do not directly make people ill. The academic and medical experts who conducted the study stated that they reached their conclusions independent of their sponsors.  The study did allow that some people could experience stress or irritation caused by the swishing sounds wind turbines produce. “A small minority of those exposed report annoyance and stress associated with noise perception… [however] annoyance is not a disease.” The study group pointed out that “similar irritations are produced by local and highway vehicles, as well as from industrial operations and aircraft.”
“You can’t control the amount of cars going by and wind turbine noise is generally quieter than highway noise”.
“The power of suggestion, as conveyed by news media coverage of perceived ‘wind-turbine sickness’, might have triggered ‘anticipatory fear’ in those close to turbine installations”. (3)

Most recently, the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection found that “there is no evidence for a set of health effects…that could be characterized as ‘Wind Turbine Syndrome.” The supposed health impacts pushed by wind opponents include mental health problems, heart disease and vertigo. The Department’s Panel was comprised of independent experts in a range of fields associated with the possible health impact of exposure to wind turbines. They explored scientific literature, reports, popular media and public comments and concluded that there was no scientific basis for claims about Wind Turbine Syndrome.
“Wind turbines consist of three main parts: a fan, a gearbox and a generator. Our cars have fans, gearboxes and generators and we are much closer to those, much more often, than we are to wind turbines. How many of us believe that our cars are making us ill?”

It is plausible in 2007 to state that there is no association between use of diagnostic ultrasound during pregnancy and childhood cancer, reduced birth weight, impaired childhood growth, or neurologic development in childhood. There is, at present, one poorly understood statistically significant association between B-mode ultrasound during pregnancy and non–right-handedness among male subjects.  Some experts do not believe that this statistical association can be a true effect of ultrasound exposure during pregnancy. We pediatricians-in-training during the 60s and 70s wondered about the safety of the increasing use of ultrasound on newborns, both in utero and in the neonatal ICU after delivery. WE aren’t concerned anymore. Perhaps some people may be concerned about producing too many left-handed (same as non-right-handeness?) boys.

1) Frei P, Poulsen AH, Johansen C, et al. Use of mobile phones and risk of brain tumours: update of Danish cohort study. British Medical Journal 2011
2) W. David Colby, Robert Dobie, Geoff Leventhall, David M. Lipscomb, Robert J. McCunney, Michael T. Seilo, Bo Søndergaard. “Wind Turbine Sound and Health Effects: An Expert Panel Review”, Canadian Wind Energy Association, December 2009.
3)  Hamilton, Tyler (15 December 2009). “Wind gets clean bill of health”Toronto Star (Toronto): pp. B1–B2

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