When watching “Mad Men,” it’s hard not to revel in the decadent splendor of indulgence, of three-martini lunches and an endless stream of smoke rings. At the same time, it’s hard to relate to the idea of smoking in an airplane or even a house, or lighting up after dinner at the 21 Club while inking a deal—at the table, not outside on West 52nd, that is.
But here we are. It’s 2011 and we are fat-free and smoke-free, and a business lunch has become just that—lunch, with a Diet Pepsi chaser. Though many yearn for the fun times, the US government, marketing campaigns such as “Truth,” films such as The Insider and horrible cancer-related deaths of loved ones that
many of us have witnessed have shown us the harm cigarettes can do.
Did we ever think we’d have the same worries about talking on the phone? Is connectivity the new killer? I’ve been forecasting this day for some time. Recent reports from the World Health Organization warn of the dangers of a lifetime of talking on cell phones—with serious illnesses like brain cancer as byproducts of our newest addiction. And are men microwaving their fertility when they stash their phone in their front pants pocket? Suddenly, “dead zone” has a new meaning.
I can’t help but wonder how the big brands will make it, as cell phones become the new carcinogen du jour. Will Apple or Nokia or Motorola create logo- or art-emblazoned helmets to protect our skulls from bad waves? Will the big guns do their own studies? (Many organizations are rebutting the WHO study by saying it’s inconclusive and cell phones are only “possibly carcinogenic” to humans.) Or create headsets that alleviate the anxiety? Or will some indie company return us all to old-school landlines? (That I doubt.)
As the debates rage and marketers of telecom products scramble to refute the claims, the real sticking point for all us “phonies” is that smoking, though addictive, is optional. Diet Pepsi is optional. Carbs and trans fats are optional. But our phones? It’s sort of beyond addiction, really. These little smart guys are instrumental to our survival, and as someone who is a brain cancer surgery survivor and brain-health-obsessed, I’m concerned about how I’ll kick this habit. And with two Blackberries, usually one in each ear, I’m doubly worried.
Maybe we need to look to our millennial friends, who are probably the healthiest of all—in addition to their need for a work-life balance, many of this young, fully digital set don’t use phones for voice calls. They simply text, status update, check in and tweet. In fact, voice activity decreased 14 percent among teens from Q2 2009 to Q2 2010; they averaged just 646 minutes talking on the phone per month, the lowest of any group other than those 55 and over, according to a 2010 Nielsen report.
Regardless of who is doing the calling (or not doing it), we’ve got much to think about as cell phones become the new cigarettes. Though can we really afford to quit them just yet, dropped calls and all? Sigh. Our bodies, our phones. Perhaps all this connectivity really does have a price.