Thursday, November 11, 2010

Zapped by Ann Louise Gittleman

It seems lately like people are increasingly worried about cell phones, wireless routers, and other kinds of electronic pollution. In the week I agreed to review Zapped, I coincidentally heard an NPR piece on cell phones and cancer, had a co-worker mention her fears on the same, and witnessed a friend turn off her wireless router to protect against electronic pollution.

It seems Ann Louise Gittleman's latest book, Zapped, which discusses the problems of electronic pollution, is nothing if not timely. In the book Gittleman outlines the various problems with electronics (and according to Gittleman, it's not just the cell phones and the routers that are problematic, but ceiling fans, hair dryers, and microwaves to name a few.) She then offers some solutions for how to reduce one's exposure to dangerous electronic pollution, while not going Amish.

Gittleman's book is essentially based on the precautionary principle: if we don't entirely know what the danger is, we should act with caution. Although Gittleman cites numerous different studies in her book, the reality is that the science is still out. We don't really know what the effects are of electromagnetic exposure. We don't know what the relation is between cell phone use and brain cancer. We just. don't. know. And studies on these issues are difficult to design for a variety of reasons, which is also why any studies on the subject need to be viewed with a fairly critical eye.

In some senses, then, it seems rational to follow Gittleman's cautionary stance. Why take a chance? If we don't know whether electronics can harm you, shouldn't we air on the side of caution?

Well, maybe. The precautionary principle isn't a bad one, necessarily. But on the other hand, we, as a society, all need to appropriately assess risk. And as a recent article in the New York Times by Lisa Belkin indicates, we are often pretty crummy at doing just that. Belkin writes:

And while we certainly make constant (mis)calculations in our adult lives, we seem all the more determined yet befuddled when it comes to the safety of our children. For instance, the five things most likely to cause injury to children up to age 18, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, are: car accidents, homicide (usually at the hands of someone they know), child abuse, suicide or drowning. And what are the five things that parents are most worried about (according to surveys by the Mayo Clinic)? Kidnapping, school snipers, terrorists, dangerous strangers and drugs.
Right. Notice how those lists do not coincide at all?

Here's the point. If you are seriously worried about electronic pollution and want a few pointers for how to reduce your exposure, sure read Zapped. Get a head set for your cell phone. Turn off appliances when you are not using them (that's good for the environment and for your electricity bill anyway.)

But before you spend thousands of dollars and hours and hours of time with an electrician trying to protect yourself, I would ask yourself to think critically about the risk here. Before you campaign to get rid of the wireless internet at your child's school, I would contemplate the relative risk of wireless internet versus the risk your child assumes every time she gets in the car on the way to school.

We cannot live in a bubble, nor would we want to. Every action we take involves some level of risk. And at the end of the day, to be a functioning member of society is to, on some level, accept a level of risk.

So, you know, if you want to read more about electronic pollution, there are definitely some interesting things about Zapped. I was particularly interested in the chapter in which Gittleman touches on the dangers associated with too many medical tests. And I appreciated some of her nutritional advice (Gittleman is actually a trained nutritionist.) I believe only good can come from eating better and exercising.

But, if you do read Zapped, I would advise you to read it wearing an analytical, questioning hat. Don't succumb to paranoia. And remember to think critically about risk.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

So This Happened....

Yup. I am now an engaged woman. The whole engagement thing was totally perfect. My boyfriend, now fiance (except I hate that word ... can I call him my pre-husband?) surprised me totally and completely, which is hard to do, especially when we had been out ring shopping the week before. Suffice it to say, we are both pretty darn happy.

I've always had mixed feelings about the whole engagement thing. Back when I was single and the whole engagement thing was completely theoretical, I wrote this post about the ring dilemma. The post was one of my most popular posts ever, and the comments are still some of my favorite on this blog. Everyone seemed to do something different, and yet everything that people did, traditional or no, was so lovely and special.

Still, when it came time for me to get engaged, I had misgivings. After all, I spent a year as a non-consumer and an engagement ring seemed, in many ways, to be a wasteful extravagance. I love rings. I love jewelry. I adore other people's engagement rings. And yes, I'm going to be honest, I secretly DID want one myself. However, I also do like to live by my principles and sometimes that means saying no to yourself especially in our consumer-driven culture.

My pre-husband, on the other hand, felt pretty strongly about it. And what he felt was that he wanted to get me a ring. After some half-hearted negotiation (Are you sure you don't want to get me an engagement mattress? What about an engagement trip to Detroit for Thanksgiving?) I agreed to the ring. And so I set about finding a ring that I would love and that would also fit in with my principles.

There are an increasing number of options available in the "green engagement ring" category and it took a while for me to sort through my options and figure out what was right for me.

Conflict free diamonds (such as the Canadian diamonds offered at Brilliant Earth) are a nice option for those wanting to avoid blood diamonds (and come on, who really wants a blood diamond, no matter how beautiful it is?) But, even conflict-free diamonds do have to be mined, and any mining process is going to have some environmental impact.

I flirted with synthetic diamonds for a while too. But once again, synthetic diamonds have some impact, even if it's less than that of a mined diamond.

In the end, the choice I made for myself made the most sense given my history. I chose a used diamond ring ... or in fancy terms "vintage." The ring is estimated to be from the 1940s, and although I don't really know the history, I can make it up. Maybe my ring belonged to the bride of a World War II vet. Maybe they wrote impossibly beautiful letters to each other during the war. Maybe their letters were totally boring: "Dear Barbara: France is hot. Love Ralph." Maybe Barbara worked in the war factories. Maybe Ralph almost died. Maybe they had a long and beautiful fifty plus years of marriage. I don't really know, but I like the idea that my ring has a story to tell if only I could hear it speak. Point being, I love my ring. Also, it's super shiny! I'm getting a little distracted right now looking at it.

The past couple weeks have been total engagement bliss. We've been lucky enough to get to celebrate with many of our friends and family members over the past few weeks, and it's served as a reminder that we're not just marrying each other, we are marrying each other's communities. And I have to say, I think we both lucked out in that we are both marrying amazing communities of people. I feel completely confident that I am READY for marriage.

A wedding, on the other hand, is a total different ball game. But that's the subject of another post.