Cellphone Hoax Popped

by on June 13, 2008 · 14 comments

Americans have a love-hate relationship with their cellphones.   Consumers have adopted wireless telephony with a passion — with over 250 million subscriptions at last count.  Many would rather venture out without their pants than without their phones.  Yet,  at the same time,  Americans seem deeply suspicious of the little devices,  perhaps believing that anything this convenient must be harmful.  

The latest case in point:  a video circulating on the net purportedly showing how radiation from cellphones can pop popcorn.   Posted on youtube and circulated endlessly by email, the video has been viewed millions of times.  It appears to to be an amateur recording made in someone’s living room, with a group of friends to put three cellphones in a circle around some popcorn kernels, then call them — making the phones ring and the popcorn pop to much merriment.

The unspoken message:  if these gizmos can explode a kernal of corn, what are they doing to your brain?

The problem though is that the whole thing is a hoax.   A total fabrication.  As it turns out, the radiation from even three cellphones isn’t even enough to warm up corn, never mind pop it.  As one commenter on the video put it:  “A 1 kilowatt microwave takes around one minute to pop its first kernel, and that’s in a closed environment. A cell phone transmitter operates from 0.1 to 1 watt, but this video shows these kernels popping almost immediately.”

And I’m not an electrical engineer, but I suspect that having the phones ring doesn’t change the equation much.

Of course, hoaxes are hardly unique on the Internet — they been around since Bill Gates first offered to give everyone a dollar for every e-mail they forwarded.   This hoax, however, is particularly pernicious.   As it turns out, it’s not just a random gag played by some pranksters.  This particular video was produced by a company called Cardo Systems as part of a viral marketing campaign.

The company is now being straightforward about its role, even featuring the video on its website, and posting versions of the video with the tag “made by Cardo Systems.”  The idea, presumably is that it was just a good-natured joke.   Still, the hardly unpredictable effect is to stoke public fears about cellphone use, particularly fears about putting the devices up to their ears.  Cardo conveniently enough, makes bluetooth earphone attachments.

They should be ashamed.


Previous post:

Next post: