The Observer Guide to Surviving Technology

Continuing in our bimonthly series on killing the buzz, Alison Lee tells us how to survive the ever-expanding world of technologyTechnology. Love it or hate it, it definitely makes life easier - or does it? The luddites among you will rejoice to hear that they were right all along - the gadgets we have come to rely on may not be so beneficial after all. In fact, in some cases they may be downright dangerous.We’ll start with mp3 players. What better way to relax than by throwing on some bangin’ choons while on the bus to college or hard at work in the library? Lately, music accessories have become fashion accessories. No self-respecting scenester would be seen dead without their chunky earphones. However, using earphones to listen to an hour of music every day for five years at high volumes puts you at risk of permanent hearing loss. According to an EU-commissioned study, five to ten per cent of music lovers risk permanent hearing loss if they continue overindulging. A Finnish study found that using headphones for half an hour at a time at half the maximum volume decreases these risks substantially, but like most good advice, it’s unlikely to catch on.Next, take mobile phones. Remember showing off your Nokia 3210 in the playground while the grown-ups argued over whether the radiation it emitted would give you cancer? Turns out the real danger may not be radiation after all, but bacteria. A study published in the Journal of Applied Microbiology showed that smartphones harbour more germs than your average public toilet, and that borrowing someone else’s to make a call is a bit like letting that person lick your face. Maybe consider cleaning your phone now and then, or at least investing in a hands-free kit. In case you were wondering, no studies have ever demonstrated a link between cancer and mobile phones, but the World Health Organisation has still classed them as “possibly carcinogenic”.So now that we’re ruined mp3 players and phones for you, let’s move on to laptops. It’s the guys that have to worry about this one: using a laptop positioned on your lap can render males infertile. This is due to the heat the devices produce - laptops can raise scrotal temperature by a whopping 2.8?C. This is a big deal if you’re a spermatozoon - these little guys are only produced at low temperatures; hence testicles are located outside the body. So if you harbour ambitions to someday become a daddy, please operate your laptop on a desk. Girls aren’t off the hook either - poor laptop use in both sexes can cause bad posture and back pain.There is something to be said for doing things the old fashioned way- taking notes on paper, sending messages via carrier pigeon (yes, that’s right - sending messages using a flying rat is probably safer than using a phone), etcetera. But it’s hard to beat shiny toys that play music and movies and let you stalk your ex-boyfriend’s new girlfriend at the click of a button. Moderation is no doubt the key - we need to know when to switch off.