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9 urban myths about mobile phones

Woman on Mobile Surprised

In this post, we’ll take a look at a few common (and many astoundingly unbelievable) urban myths about mobile phones. There have been lots of great stories and misconceptions about mobiles over the past few years, so here’s just a quick summary of the best…

Mobile phone urban myths

1. Using a mobile in low light can cause damage to your eyes

Reading in low light

If you remember being told by a parent to stop reading at night because it would damage your eyes, you’ll also be familiar with the modern day equivalent that reading by the harsh light of a smartphone, mobile, or tablet is can damage your vision. It all comes down to the idea that staring at a very close distance for an extended period (and kind of light they emit) will strain your eyes and they’ll deteriorate faster than normal.

The Irish College of Ophthalmologists seems to have the answer, as council member Dr Garry Treacy explains that whatever strain you may feel is doing no damage to your eyes.

Dr Treacy says the myth is grounded in attempts to get children to sleep, and because we grew up hearing that, it’s become fact. Looking at screens under dim light will not cause you to become long or short sighted, and is not doing any other damage either. In fact, your eyes can actually become strong.

Saying that reading is bad for your eyes is like saying that walking is bad for your legs, says Treacy.

“As you get older, you will always find reading harder. It’s because of how your eyes see the contrast between black and white. Younger eyes are better at doing this with less light, but as they grow old, more and more light is needed to make a clear distinction between black and white.”

So there you have it – there’s probably no danger in reading a mobile or tablet screen whilst in bed…

2. You can charge an iPhone in 20 seconds using a microwave oven

iPhone Microwave Charge

As unbelievable as it sounds, mainly influenced by Internet rumours, people have in the past actually heated their iPhones in the microwave. But why? The trend seems to have come from a thread on a Japanese Internet noticeboard “2channel” known for its often-dubious posts. The claim was that an iPhone 5 could be charged by heating it in the microwave for 20 seconds, or an iPhone 4s for 30 seconds. Of course, as we all know, this will result in a very nicely toasted iPhone or perhaps even an explosion.

It appears that Twitter played a huge role in spreading the rumour, and unfortunately, not everyone has a good sense of what to believe in and what to ignore. Twitter has even been called the “idiot detector” (baka hakkenki) in Japan…

3. You can cook an egg by radiation by placing it between two mobiles

Cooking Egg MobilesThe myth claims that you can cook an egg by putting it firmly between two mobile phones. The amount of people that believed this when it was published on the Wymsey Village Web was unbelievable.

It was apparently picked up by the Russian paper Pravda, who replicated the experiment and claimed to have proved it as true. The fact is, that of all the people who have tried to prove this, none of them have actually worked. In fact, you could put an egg between two phones for hours, and the egg would not only not be cooked, but it probably wouldn’t even be warm…

4. Driving using a mobile is just as dangerous as driving when drunk

There have been claims (in Australia) that using a mobile phone while driving is as dangerous as driving under the influence of alcohol. The Australian Mobile Telecommunications Association (AMTA) states that false claims about driving using a phone could actually undermine safety campaigns, by reducing the stigma of driving while drunk, according to AMTA Chief Executive Officer Chris Althaus.

Using mobile in car

Apparently the false claims were based on incomplete reviews of the established research, and that “More importantly, the comparison could undermine other driver safety campaigns by reducing the stigma of driving whilst drunk and the comparison is considered irresponsible by some road safety authorities”.

“No one is questioning that mobile phone use imposes physical, visual, and cognitive demands on the driver. However, drivers who get behind the wheel after drinking are more likely to take risks. They have reduced perceptions of the risk involved because alcohol impairs judgement.

“A recent Australian study which compared the blood alcohol levels of drivers involved in actual car crashes found the risk of an accident was increased by 25 times at a blood alcohol concentration of 0.08. Mobile phones have not been shown to present this level of risk in any research.”

5. You should always fully discharge a mobile battery

Mobile Battery

Battery life is always at a premium, especially for all our power-hungry gadgets. You may have heard of lots of tricks to keep your battery life at tip-top levels, and many of those tips are valid.

However, one particular myth (that many people to this day still believe) claims that you should fully discharge your battery (whether that’s for a phone, laptop, or another gadget) every time you use it. Unfortunately, that’s just not the case today, as it’s a left over belief from the older nickel cadmium batteries that suffer from a kind of ‘memory effect’ that doesn’t apply to modern lithium-ion batteries.

So feel free to charge your phone whether it’s at 1% or 90% – it won’t make any difference to the longevity of the battery.

6. Don’t use a mobile when there’s a lightning storm

Man using mobile during a storm

Is it dangerous to use a mobile during a storm? Many people believe that somehow it’s not safe and you shouldn’t use any electronic device, especially a phone.

This may be due to the incorrect belief that electricity could somehow ‘travel’ through the radio waves coming from the device? As it happens, radio waves do not conduct electricity, and as long as the phone is not connected to any electrical sockets, no lightning can reach the user via the wiring in the house. There’s also no evidence that mobile phones somehow attract lightning.

However, there is another more realistic danger posed by using a mobile during a storm, especially outdoors when holding any metallic device to your ear. This is because skin is a poor conductor of electricity, and most of the electricity from a strike conducts over the skin rather than through the body. So when there is a metal object in contact with your skin, the effect is multiplied because the electricity has an easier entry into the body.

7. Mobiles can cause planes to crash and petrol stations to blow up

Using a mobile at petrol station

We have always been told there are some places where we must never use a mobile phone. For example, the assertion that making a mobile phone call on a plane could interfere with the computers that keep plane in the air.

Ofcom has in recent times confirmed that mobile phones can be used onboard UK-registered aircraft, so surely all the disaster stories were just made up, or at the very least, overly cautious? After all, it is also a commonly-held belief that it is dangerous to make calls at petrol station forecourts due to the risk of explosions, and also that mobiles may cause lifesaving equipment in hospitals to fail.

“There is practically no evidence to say mobile phones pose a risk,” said Dr Adam Burgess, of Kent University and the author of Cellular Phones, Public Fears And A Culture Of Precaution. The report cites a study that found mobiles affected only 4% of hospital equipment, and only 0.1% of it seriously.

But what about the exploding petrol stations?

“There have been claims explosions at petrol stations were down to mobiles. But they have since been found to be caused by sparks from the static on peoples’ clothes,” says Burgess. “The claims against mobiles are based on no evidence.”

So next time you feel like making a call or sending a quick text while filling up your car – go ahead, there’s nothing to worry about*.

* please don’t quote me on that.

8. You can unlock your car by relaying the key fob signal over a mobile

Have you locked your keys in the car? Does your car have remote keys? This may come in handy some day, and it’s a good reason to own a mobile phone, according to the myth:

Unlock Car via MobileIf you lock your keys in the car and the spare keys are at home, call someone at home on their mobile phone from your mobile phone. Hold your cell phone about a foot from your car door and have the person at your home press the unlock button, holding it near the mobile phone on their end. Your car will unlock. Saves someone from having to drive your keys to you. Distance is no object. You could be hundreds of miles away,and if you can reach someone who has the other “remote” for your car, you can unlock the doors (or the trunk).

Unfortunately, cars with remote keyless entry cannot be unlocked in this way. The fob transmitters and phones use different types of signals and transmit them at different frequencies.

9. Dialling 999 actually boosts your mobile phone’s battery

Mobile dialling 999

Police say they are desperate to dispel a myth that dialling 999 can boost the battery life of a mobile phone.

A force in Anglia says it has received numerous nuisance calls because people believe calling the emergency number and hanging up will increase the power left on their device.

A Bedfordshire Police spokesman has said it simply was not true and warned the calls were taking resources away from genuine emergencies. “This myth has been circulating for some time now and we are not the only force to have suffered from these false calls.

“Calling 999 for anything other than an emergency or a non-police matter puts additional pressure on resources, ties up an operator and wastes valuable time that could be better spent helping genuine callers possibly in a life-threatening situation. The only way to boost a mobile phone battery is to use a charger”.

By Roland Banks

Roland Banks has been passionate about mobile technology for the past 20 years. He started his career at British Telecom's research division working on collaborative virtual reality environments, before becoming a video streaming specialist at 3 UK where he helped launch some of the world's first mobile video services. More recently he enjoys writing about his obsession, and developing software that helps mobile operators analyse their subscriber data.

Roland has lived in Asia for the past 5 years, and tries to indulge his other passion for riding motorcycles whenever possible.

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