Who's doing research on the dark side of tech?

With new innovations popping up each day, it's hard to tell which gadget in your house may have an adverse impact on your health or on the environment around you.
Written by Swati Prasad, Contributor
Will house sparrows become things of the past in Delhi?

Today's newspaper had an article on the house sparrow, a once-common bird in Delhi which has almost disappeared from the city.

This bird, which was common at least in the 1990s, made its nests inside homes, in ventilators, and on trees. Today, school teachers show children what the bird looks like on a computer. I can't recall the last time I spotted a house sparrow in my city, altough adjoining cities like Jaipur are still full of them. Unfortunately, the Delhi government noticed its disappearance very late, in 2010, and initiated a campaign to increase the bird's population in the city.

There are two main theories behind why the house sparrow has disappeared. The first one relates to rapid urbanization, resulting in loss of habitat for the sparrow. Modern homes do not have ventilators. They also don't have indigenous plants that were a source for worms, which were food for the sparrow. And shopping malls have replaced local shops that sold grains in sacks, which were a source of food for the sparrows. Similarly, pest controls have become rampant, reducing worms even further.

The second theory pertains to radiation from mobile phones. Sometime back, a government panel had concluded that radiation emitted from mobile towers was behind the dwindling number of house sparrows and honeybees. The environment ministry asked the telecom ministry to seek the former's permission before installing new mobile towers in the city. No such tower is to be erected within 1km periphery of a bird or animal sanctuary, it said.

The study found that mobile radiation prevents breeding in sparrows and disturbs the navigation of honeybees. Absence of both the sparrows and bees would lead to ecological imbalance.

This morning, I also read about accessories which stream HD movies wirelessly from your smartphone to television. They cost less than US$100 each. Since I own a Samsung Galaxy S3 and a Samsung tablet, my husband recommended I buy it so we can view the movies on these gadgets via our television.

My instant reaction was "no way". Just look at the gadgets we have in our homes today--televisions, mobile phones, laptops, microwave ovens, home theaters, digital cameras, Bluetooth devices...the list goes on and on. Just take 10 minutes, go around your house, and count the number of devices you have today and didn't have 20 years ago. I am sure the number will be over 20.

The fact is, even we don't know the impact these gadgets and radiation have on our bodies and ecology. If house sparrows can disappear, so can millions of other smaller organism that surround us. Unfortunately, we don't yet know the long-term impact of using these gadgets.

Today, manufacturers spend billions of dollars on adding new features to their mobile devices and other gadgets. Market conditions compel them to upgrade their devices every six months to a year. But what about research on the impact of technology on the environment? How many companies actually spend money on this kind of research? And how reliable is that research?

In heavily populated countries like India and China, the environmental impact of newer technologies can be huge. Unfortunately, a majority of us become addicted to the devices and its new features in no time. We can't do without Bluetooth and Wi-Fi today.

House sparrows and honeybees are not equally addictive. But every change in the environment has an impact on our lives. We will never know what damage it has done until the damage glares us in the face.


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