Early in 2019, several companies began to roll out their new 5G cellular services in major cities across the US. These quiet roll-outs served as testbeds for a host of new 5g cell phones, as well as ways to stress test the technology itself. And as happens with any new technology, some people immediately started freaking out and the internet was there to happily help them run wild with rumors and conspiracy theories about the dangers of 5g. So what’s going on with 5g? Is it going to cook our brains and kill us? How dangerous is 5g?
To start, fear of new technologies is nothing new, especially when they play an immediate day to day life. In the late 1800s cities around the world began to install electric street lighting. While many cities already enjoyed the benefit of gas lamps, these were expensive to maintain, generally only covered small areas of major cities, have an element of danger since gas is, you know, explosive. Electric lamps, however, were cheap, and could all be turned on and off with the switch of a single button. No longer would lamp lighters need to spend hours each evening going around the city lighting individual lamps one by one.
The new electric light technology promised to make our growing cities well lit and keep people safe while out at night- and not just in the rich neighborhoods were gas lighting was popular. While street lights are ubiquitous across any modern nation, the plan to string up electric street lighting across entire cities was met by a wave of fear from the population. Many feared the health hazards of lighting up a city at night, as it would throw off people’s ability to tell night from day and thus ruin sleep cycles. Massive health hazards were predicted, as millions of people had their sleep schedules turned on their heads.
It was feared a wave of madness would overtake humanity. But, no such thing happened and those early fear mongers would likely have a hay day with our modern twenty-four-seven lifestyles. Religious figures got in on the outrage too, warning that lighting up entire cities would violate God’s natural laws. That is because God had clearly made a difference between night and day, and if we were to do away with that divinely-inspired segregation of light and dark then… who knows, demons may burst forth from the mouth of hell, cats and dogs would become best friends and up would become down.
The Vatican feared offending God’s sleep cycle so much that it initially banned gas lights in the 1830s. It might be tempting to laugh at the ignorance of zealots and the ignorant masses of the 1800s, but you’d be doing so at the risk of being laughed at yourself by future generations. Today we are afraid of everything from chemtrails to GMO foods, despite common sense and decades worth of scientific studies. You’re free to laugh at the ignorance of 1800 citizens who believed electric lights would drive everyone insane, as long as you don’t mind that in two hundred years you’ll be laughed at for being afraid of vaccines- if everyone hasn’t died to super-measles by then. But of all the fears we have about our modern world, the latest to hit the internet and rumor mills around the world are fears over 5g cellular service. But what even is 5g? 5G is simply another evolution in wireless information transfer technology.
5G means the fifth generation, but as opposed to previous generations 5g operates at much higher frequencies than previously used. The higher frequencies allow 5g service to deliver greater packets of data, with the potential estimated to be up to ten gigabytes per second. This could dramatically change our wireless world and promises to make everything from augmented and virtual reality to smart autonomous vehicles a fixture of our lives. Unfortunately though as you increase the frequency of a carrier wave, its range is dramatically decreased as is its ability to penetrate through solid objects like walls. This is why the military very often uses extremely low-frequency bandwidths to transmit messages, most famously with its fleet of nuclear submarines who use a global system of extremely low-frequency transmitters to communicate with its boats from anywhere in the world.
Mention high frequency outside of a science classroom though and the public very quickly begins to soil their collective pantaloons. On one hand, the fears are justified, after all, history is full of examples of poorly understood technologies being marketed to an ignorant public- it wasn’t too long ago that ionizing radiation was promised as a cure-all for, well everything. You could find radioactive elements in everything from makeup powders to breakfast cereals, all with the promise that the ionizing radiation would boost your vigor and refresh your health! Of course, it did pretty much the opposite, and it didn’t take long for people to figure it out. Yet today, unlike yesteryear, we have international systems of scientific checks and balances which work very well to stamp out bias and scientific deception. While a massive conspiracy to cook everyone’s brains with cell phones is not entirely impossible, it would be an extremely difficult scheme to sneak pass the thousands of watchdog agencies all connected by the global internet.
Plus it doesn’t pass the first point of failure for any conspiracy theory: common sense. If cell phone companies purposefully developed a product that irradiated its consumers, those same companies would A – be buried under mountains of lawsuits, and B – not have consumers anymore when people flat-out refused to use cell phones out of fear. Fears over cell phone radiation are nothing new though and have plagued the devices ever since their mainstream adoption in the 1990s. All matter of products has been marketed promising to protect you from the risk of electromagnetic radiation from your evil cell phone, most of which were nothing more than snake oil that did little if anything to block the radio frequencies emitted by your cell phone. Ongoing public fears have prompted scientific study after scientific study, and yet no valid study has to prove that normal cell phone use poses a real risk to humans. In back when killing people with radio waves was something the Japanese were trying to do during World War II, the best they managed with extremely powerful modified radar dishes was to kill a rabbit at a distance of a few dozen feet- and even then only after ten minutes and using an antenna several meters across and locking the rabbit up in a cage where it couldn’t move. After much careful scientific study by our own Infographics research staff, we were able to conclude that your phone is in fact, far smaller than a 3-meter wide antenna and you are far larger than a rabbit. Thanks to the United States and the Soviet Union doing their darned best to kill every human on planet earth for forty years though, we have an understandable aversion to anything with the word radiation in it. This explains why people are so concerned over cell phones, which blast out electromagnetic radiation into their environment.
Coupled with the fact that you typically then put these devices up to your head to speak into them, we can see where the concerns over radiation affecting people’s brains come from. It’s important to understand the differences between the different types of radiation though. The first, and the most feared, is ionizing radiation, which is one of the types of radiation emitted by a nuclear explosion. This is the same stuff that comic books said would turn us into super-powered Spidermen, except unless your preferred superpower is the ability to get cancer, then no it won’t. Ionizing radiation is harmful to living beings because of the energy in its extremely short wavelength and high-frequency waves, which can knock electrons loose from atoms and seriously damage the molecules inside your body. Non-ionizing radiation, on the other hand, doesn’t carry enough energy to break molecular bonds, and the best that they can do is cause heating by vibrating molecules at high speeds. This is exactly how your microwave works- it emits microwave radiation with high enough energy to vibrate water molecules in your food, generating heat which warms the food. But with 5g using wavelengths similar to those in a microwave, how in the world could our cell phones not end up cooking our brains? The answer to that question has to do with power- a microwave can emit anywhere between 500 and 1000 watts of power, which is enough to kill if you were to crawl inside a giant microwave and turn on the popcorn setting that is. It also emits this much energy continuously, while a cell phone only emits a few watts of power and even this comes in short bursts.
If you don’t believe physics though, then you can believe the tests done on live animals to see how dangerous the electromagnetic radiation is given off by the frequencies used by cell phones are. One ten year study tracked colonies of mice and rats which had their full bodies exposed to radio frequencies used by 2g and 3g cell services. The test subjects were exposed for 18 hours a day in intervals of ten minutes on and ten minutes off, starting before they were even born while inside their mothers and lasting throughout the normal course of their lives. The power level of the RF radiation used ranged from above to slightly below permitted levels for cellular devices, and after a decade the study found no direct correlation between RF radiation and ill health effects. Given the far fewer exposure humans are subjected to and the physical properties of 5g’s very high-frequency waves, scientists have expressed little fear that 5g will be dangerous. For starters, the waves are so poor at propagating through objects and even just empty air that companies are forced to build mini-towers every city block or so, and in consumer tests of 5g devices earlier this year most lost service after getting only a few hundred feet away from them.
This doesn’t bode well for 5g waves trying to penetrate through the layers of your skin and skull to get to your defenseless brain and start cooking it. Nevertheless, we fully expect that fear-mongering and rumors will continue to spread as 5g rolls out around the world, and we also don’t expect to be disappointed by the countless snake oil salesman and their crazy inventions the promise will protect you from the evil cell phone radiation. Of course, we know that you know that this is exactly what we’d say if we were in fact part of a major conspiracy and in the pocket of all of the major cell phone carriers and manufacturers, which is why we encourage you to do your research into the difference between ionizing and non-ionizing radiation. But we’re also happy if you don’t think we’re part of a conspiracy by aliens from the Zeti Reticuli system to secretly cook all your delicious brains with radio waves to make them the perfect temperature and consistency for harvesting. Do you plan on buying a 5g cell phone? What do you think about building mini cell towers everywhere? Let us know in the comments!