Health: Problem With Your iPhone Alarm? Here’s A Tip: Don’t Use Your Phone As An Alarm

  • Share
  • Read Later

Kevork Djansezian / AP

iPhone users around the world experienced a rude awakening on New Year’s Day. Or rather, they didn’t—because of a glitch in the iPhone’s calendar software, alarms set over the weekend failed to go off, causing tens of thousands of people around the world to be late, at least according to the tweets. It’s unclear just how widespread the problems have been or exactly why the glitch happened—Apple hasn’t offered an explanation, though a support page on its website told users to set their clocks to “recurring alarms,” rather than one-time alarms. Even so, some users were still reporting problems with their iPhone alarm clocks on January 3, the first working day of the new year.

I’m an environment writer, not an IT expert, so I can’t help you fix your phone. But here’s a tip for all of those angry Appleistas trying to figure out how to wake up on time if their iPhone alarm isn’t working: do not use your cell phone as an alarm! As I wrote in a piece last year, while there’s no unassailable evidence yet of a link between cell phone use and a higher risk of cancer, there’s enough worrying data out there to make it worthwhile to reduce your exposure to cell phone radiation whenever possible:

But a number of scientists are worried that there has been a dangerous rush to declare cell phones safe, using studies they feel are inadequate and too often weighted toward the wireless industry’s interests. An analysis published by University of Washington neurologist Henry Lai determined that far more independent studies than industry-funded studies have found at least some type of biological effect from cell-phone exposure. (See pictures of the cell phone’s history.)Several countries — including Finland, Israel and France — have issued guidelines for cell-phone use. And San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom, who began researching the issue when his wife was expecting their first child, is hoping his city will adopt legislation that would have manufacturers print radiation information on cell-phone packaging and manuals and require retailers to display the data on the sales floor.

With 270 million Americans and 4 billion people around the world using cell phones — and more signing up every day — a strong link between mobiles and cancer could have major public-health implications.

As Devra Davis—an epidemiologist and toxicologist who focuses on the environmental causes of cancer—wrote in her 2010 book Disconnect, there’s enough evidence out there now to at least suggest caution with cell phone use, and possibly a lot more, as I posted in September:

She found evidence of studies, some decades old, showing that the radio-frequency radiation used by cell phones could indeed have biological effects–enough to damage DNA and potentially contribute to brain tumors. She found that other countries—like France and Israel—had already acted, discouraging the use of cell phones by children and even putting warning signs on handsets. She found evidence of  increases in certain kinds of brain tumors among unusually young patients who were heavy users of cell phones. And, just as she saw with tobacco and lung cancer, Davis discovered that the wireless industry—often with the help of governments—had fought independent scientists who studied cell phones, and helped produced questionable science that effectively clouded the issue. “This is about the most important and unrecognized public health issues of our time,” says Davis.”We could avert a global catastrophe if we act.”
And if you read the fine print of the instruction manuals that come with cell phones, as TIME’s Michael Scherer pointed out last year, you’ll notice that wireless companies recommend that you should keep your handset about an inch away from your body—something government safety standards assume, even though few of us actually use our phones that way:
We are a nation grown numb to the seemingly endless fine print that accompanies our purchases. But every now and then a product is sold with a warning that should command attention. Consider the little-noticed bit of legalese that comes in the safety manual for Apple’s iPhone 4: “When using iPhone near your body for voice calls or for wireless data transmission over a cellular network, keep iPhone at least 15 mm (5/8 inch) away from the body, and only use carrying cases, belt clips, or holders that do not have metal parts and that maintain at least 15 mm (5/8 inch) separation between iPhone and the body,” the warning reads.
Similar warnings against carrying cellular and smart phones in a closely sewn pocket show up throughout the industry. The safety manual for Research in Motion’s BlackBerry 9000 phone tells users that they may violate Federal Communications Commission (FCC) guidelines for radio-frequency energy exposure by carrying the phone outside a holster and within 0.98 inches (2.5 cm) of their body. The safety manual of the Motorola W180 phone tells users to always keep the active device one full inch away from their body, if not using a company-approved “clip, holder, holster, case or body harness.” (See the top 10 iPhone applications of 2009.) 

You can reduce your exposure to cell phone radiation—and any potential health hazard—simply by keeping the phone away from your body, texting more often and by using a headset when making and receiving calls. That’s what I do myself—it’s a slight inconvenience, but one that seems worth it. But most of all, you should not use your phone as an alarm, keeping an active device next to your bed—and your head—for hours as you sleep. (And as Davis pointed out in a post recently, you really shouldn’t use a smartphone as a pacifier for babies—young children have thinner skulls and are more vulnerable to radiation than adults.) Using an old-fashioned alarm clock will prevent an extra dose of radiation—and given the glitches with the iPhone, it might just get you to work on time too.