Thinking critically about wireless technologies and language learning

Writer(s): 
Paul Raymond Doyon, Associate Professor, Utsunomiya University

Condemnation without investigation is the height of ignorance. -- Albert Einstein I am disturbed to increasingly be seeing reports of presentations blindly extolling the benefits of cell-phone and other wireless-device usage in the language-teaching classroom. Last year, at a university in Thailand, I was getting ready to teach an EFL class and was taking role when I noticed Noi (a pseudonym) had been absent for five classes. I had just been having a conversation with the students about cell phones explaining to them that the research is showing an increase in brain tumors after ten years of use. I had then asked them how long they had had their cell phones. “Three years.” “Five years.” “Seven years,” had been their answers. When I asked Noi why she had been absent she replied, “It is because I have a brain tumor.” This was a terribly sad thing to know from a young woman who was just beginning her adult life. Yet, I have recently been hearing an increasing number of personal accounts from people with this problem. At this same university, one of my colleague’s friends had died of a brain tumor. Several of my coworkers from when I was working in China the previous year had parents with brain tumors. Another friend of mine wrote to me to tell me of his dismay at seeing his five-year old nephew being treated for a brain tumor. Brain tumors, surpassing leukemia in 2002, are now the leading cause of cancer death in children. I gave a presentation last year on the topic of cell phone dangers to a women’s group in Chiang Mai, Thailand and asked people in the audience to raise their hands if they knew someone with a brain tumor. Almost everyone did. Now, the “official” explanation out there for this is that we have better diagnostics with the MRI machine, which made its debut in 1984—though I question this answer. 1984 was also the first year when the first commercial cell phone network was set up nationally in the USA. It is also the first year that we started seeing what the media dubbed as “Yuppie Flu,” which was given the more officious, but dubious, name of “Chronic Fatigue Syndrome” by the CDC four years later in 1988. It was furthermore the first year reports of Colony Collapse Disorder started being made; and this disorder which is causing bees to disappear has now spread around the world. I personally suffered from an illness back in the spring of 2005 when I started to exhibit a host of bizarre and (at the time) unexplainable symptoms which included extreme fatigue, insomnia, brain fog, concentration and memory problems, dry and irritated eyes, swollen lymph nodes, heart pain and palpitations, anxiety attacks, increased allergies and sensitivities, night sweats, chills, headaches, dizziness, intestinal disturbances, eye pain and vision problems, nausea, extreme thirst, frequent urination, tinnitus, and extreme and sudden weight loss. I was diagnosed with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (自律神経失調症) by a doctor at Kyushu University Hospital—and was told there was nothing I could do to recover. However, after six months of a progressively worsening condition and the frantic search for both the cause and a cure, I finally started to suspect ambient electromagnetic radiation (also known as “electrosmog”) exposure —especially the microwave radiation pumped out into our environments for cell phone and WiFi use—as being the culprit. I moved into a log house in the mountains of Saga, where there was no cell phone reception, and within 24 hours noticed a complete disappearance of approximately 50% of my symptoms. I stayed in this log house for four months and was pronounced completely cured by another Japanese doctor one year after I initially started to experience symptoms. Further research into this issue led me to the knowledge that not only did people start getting ill with this mysterious illness in 1984—the same year that the first commercial cell phone network began operating across the United States, but also that the symptoms of CFS mimic what have been termed Radio Wave or Microwave Sickness. There are a multitude of other parallels I have found which I don’t have the space to go into given my 750-word limit. Suffice it to say, before uncritically embracing these technologies in the classroom and blindly extolling their benefits, we also need to take a very serious look at the other side of the coin: their negative mental, psychological, social, and biological effects.

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