Crave Talk: Is Wi-Fi the 21st century plague?

Wi-Fi will rot children's brains, eat their innards and decay the fabric of modern society as we know it. Or will it?

Rory Reid
3 min read

Wi-Fi will rot children's brains, eat their innards and decay the fabric of modern society as we know it. These are the sentiments of the mainstream media after a study found peak radiation from Wi-Fi is three times that from a mobile phone mast.

The tests, conducted for an episode of BBC's Panorama, will raise fears that Wi-Fi is a health time bomb. Will the fact it's used in 70 per cent of British schools give rise to a nation of cancer-ridden teenagers? Or are those behind the tests just leading a witch-hunt of a technology they don't truly understand?

There are arguments to support both cases. Wi-Fi networks are essentially smaller versions of mobile-phone masts, which themselves have been proven to cause headaches, fatigue, dizziness, nausea and memory loss. If a Wi-Fi laptop emits up to three times more radiation and they're in your kid's classroom -- little Johnny is doomed, surely?

Some would say yes: the World Health Organisation estimates that up to three out of every hundred people are 'electrosensitive' to the point where they become physically ill in the presence of Wi-Fi. Stowe School, in Buckingham, removed Wi-Fi from part of its premises after one of its teachers -- who had taught there for 28 years -- developed headaches and nausea as soon as it was installed. The worry is that children, who have thinner skulls and under-developed nervous systems, are more likely to suffer.

But hold the phone -- we should be very careful to keep these findings in context. We haven't seen the episode of Panorama, but according to the BBC, the readings in the test "were 600 times below the government's safety limits". As to the WHO's 3 per cent stat, there are 200 people in our Wi-Fi saturated office and six people are not experiencing headaches. Three per cent of Starbucks customers are not vomiting their expensive coffee, and three per cent of travellers on Wi-Fi enabled trains aren't falling over with dizziness. We can't speak to the accuracy of the WHO's specific scientific findings, but it simply doesn't make any sense in our experience.

Just last year the WHO itself said (of those who aren't electrosensitive) "no health effects are expected from exposure to RF fields from [cellular] base stations and wireless networks". The Wi-Fi alliance, an industry group, also (unsurprisingly) reckons they're safe: it says the radio waves in a Wi-Fi network use the same frequency as a wireless home phone, and have just one-thirtieth of the power.

Who do we believe?

We say listen to Uncle Crave. Until somebody proves beyond reasonable doubt that Wi-Fi is the new plague, you should continue to bask in its delicious radio frequencies like hippos in the mud. History has taught us that whenever there's a new technology, there's always a fame-hungry gaggle of scientists proclaiming its evilness -- and everyone forgets about it and moves on.

We saw it with TVs, we saw it with mobile phones, and now we're seeing it with Wi-Fi. Next week we'll be debating whether Bluetooth makes your teeth fall out, or if listening to Kiss FM gives you athlete's foot. Give us a break. -Rory Reid