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Are Cell Phones the Cigarettes of the 21st Century?

There's an alarming amount of research that shows cell phones may not be as benign as we thought.

For anyone who watches Mad Men the unhealthy lifestyle choices so pointedly on display sometimes seem over the top. Contrived, even. But the reality is that smoking in situations that today would seem absurd or illegal—at the doctors office, in your own office, or while pregnant, for example—were a lot more common than our 21st-century political correctness might allow us to believe. Cultural norms are a powerful force.

A new book, discussed in The New York Times last weekend, sees an alarming trend in the way and frequency with which we use our cell phones. "The 737 minutes that we talk on cell phones, on average, according to the C.T.I.A., monthly makes today's typical user indistguishable from the heavy user of ten years ago," writes Randall Strauss.

Possible biological effects from wireless communication were found in 67 percent of studies without funding from the cell phone industry (28 percent from studies with industry funding), which Henry Lai, a research professor at the University of Washington, says is not trivial.

And while it's unlikely that the negative effects of cell phones are anywhere close to those of smoking, it does raise the question: Will our grandchildren look at us talking on our cell phones the moment our plane touches down, or while sitting in the doctors office, with the same mix of nostalgia and moral superiority that we feel toward those dated characters on Mad Men?

Image (cc) via Flickr user Kanaka Menehune

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