Is your wi-fi killing you? - Katherine Roberts

As electric authors, chances are that we (and you, our readers!) are using various electrical gadgets - computers, smartphones, etc - and swimming in wi-fi signals every day without thought to the consequences. Like me, you've probably suffered the occasional lapse of concentration and general brain-fog, putting it down to overwork and the mass of data coming in from all angles, 24-7. But there's another scarier possibility... that our wi-fi might be killing us, or at least killing our creativity and general well-being.

I first noticed these 'brain-fog' symptoms about 7 years ago, a few years after I'd moved from a 17th century cottage with 22-inch thick stone walls in the Wye valley to a brick-built bungalow in Torbay, which might be within walking distance of one of the best beaches in south Devon, but is basically an urban environment with a rapidly-growing collection of masts at the top of the hill. There's a sign on the gate advising people not to enter. Along with other worrying warnings, it says: "IF YOU HAVE A CARDIAC PACEMAKER OR BONES REPAIRED BY METAL/PLASTIC BONE IMPLANTS YOU MUST SEEK MEDICAL ADVICE BEFORE ACCESSING THIS SITE". Rather worrying for the older folk whose bungalows are just down the road, I should imagine!


These 'necessary evil' masts are about a mile up the hill from my house, but there is a smaller version at the end of my road diverting signals down into the valley, and of course all my neighbours have personal wi-fi in their homes which they never seem to turn off, not even at night. Wi-fi generates an electromagnetic field (EMF), along with mobile phones, digital TV, the new smart meters, and just about any electrical appliance - invisible, tasteless, odourless, but still working on your body, and (presumably to an even greater extent) your brain. I am not paranoid enough (yet) to possess an EMF meter, but even my ancient 3G Kindle that barely connects to 3G any more dutifully lists up to 18 wi-fi signals in my bedroom, some of these stronger than my own - though annoyingly padlocked so I can't simply cancel my broadband and use them! I always turn my wi-fi off at night, but I can't go around turning off all my neighbours, or I imagine they'd have something to say about it. It's rather like passive smoking, only you can't see the smoke.

So is too much (and too strong) wi-fi a problem for creative people? Well, yes, I think it might be. I've noticed a slow decline in my creativity and ability to concentrate since I moved. If I have my broadband on at home and use my laptop for any length of time, not only does my head turn to fuzz, but my legs actually start twitching... although, admittedly, taking the machine off my lap and using it on a table helps. OK, forget the twitching, that's probably just bad posture and the warning signs of repetitive strain injury. Probably.

Now, before you think I'm one of those old-school authors who shuns modern technology and bemoans the passing of the quill pen, I should point out that I was a computer graduate in the early 1980s, before anybody had even heard of home computers let alone got two or three gadgets in every room. I appreciate that I couldn't have re-published my out-of-print backlist titles without a fast broadband connection, as we've had in Torbay ever since I moved down here - in fact, I was one of the first UK authors to take advantage of amazon's (then) DTP, now the KDP. So I'm not against technology, I make too much use of it for that. I'm merely old enough to have lived with these technologies for a while, and to remember what it was like to be an author/creative human being before they, along with the associated constant connectivity, became an unavoidable part of our lives. So bear with me, because there just might be something in this.

I did not have broadband, or its associated wi-fi, until I moved to Torbay. I used a dial-up internet connection for emails, and did not surf the web very much at all - it was deathly slow, and many newer websites would not load, anyway. Also, we did not have digital TV in the Wye valley, just analog. In fact, we went digital down here in Torbay a couple of years earlier than the rest of the country... were they experimenting on us, maybe? If so, nobody did any studies as far as I am aware. Analog was much easier on the eyes in my opinion, also less prone to annoying interference from people's hairdryers etc - anyone else noticed that glitch where people's mouths open and close a couple of seconds before their speech comes out? Weird.

But let's not get distracted. I can control my 'brain-fog' symptoms by walking on the beach when the tide is out, or taking a cycle ride out into the countryside, where I can breathe and think, away from people and their endless gadgets. I feel better if I go away to the mountains, the moor, anywhere there are fewer houses and fewer people. I feel at my worst when I visit a large city. London was always stressful to visit, but even local towns have this effect now. Up to now I have resisted buying a smartphone, because the thought of being connected to wi-fi at all times is slightly alarming, though probably everyone else's phones are doing me just as much damage, or - more likely - all the wi-fi hotspots springing up everywhere. It might be my imagination (as a fantasy author, I've got quite an active one), but I just can't think straight in an area with too many EMF signals. Oh, I can still do the maths puzzle in the paper, and work at my writing, but I don't feel sharp, at least not like I did before. And it seems I am not alone.

The biospiritual wellness site
claims: "Exposure to EMFs of specific frequencies and intensities has been linked to depression, memory loss, loss of energy, irritability, inability to concentrate, chronic fatigue, headaches, weakened immune system, cancer, brain tumours, Alzheimer's, autism, childhood leukemia, birth defects, accelerated aging and miscarriages."

Sound familiar?

Other people think so too, including scientists and medical doctors. Here is one of the more balanced sites talking about EMF:
The research page in particular reminds me a little of the film Erin Brockovich, based on a true story in which a large water company tries to cover up the harmful effects of adding hexavalent chlorine to their water cooling towers. (I'm not suggesting there's a similar EMF cover up, just not enough research and not enough time to know the effects yet.)

click here to see the current EMF research

Finally, if this post resonates with you, here's a short film from the EMF Refugees page regarding one woman's search for a home that does not make her ill. Although it might seem a bit extreme (thankfully I don't have EMF sensitivity to that degree, at least not yet!) I think it's a warning of where we might be headed if we keep on building all those masts and covering the greenbelt with wi-fi signals.

So am I simply crazy/menopausal/lacking some essential mineral/making excuses for not being a mega-bestselling author yet? Or is anyone else out there also suffering from a dose of suspected 21st century brain-fog?


Katherine Roberts is an award-winning UK children's author, and (just in case you are now a little bit worried about your children's e-health) some of her best-loved backlist books are now re-available to read as print-on-demand paperbacks:
Spell Spring
I am the Great Horse

More on the way... keep an eye on Katherine's website.


julia jones said…
I think you may be talking a great deal of sense. A few months ago I read a very good book about the brain which incidentally noted the possible link of urban noise pollution with the rise in autism among children.. A persuasive argument based on th the physiology of the developing brain. (Author Norman Doidge)

Ironically when I looked at the charming photograph at the head of this piece I assumed you were sitting at a piano ... if only!
Thanks for this, Julia. I haven't played the piano since I was a kid, but there must be a parallel between creating fiction and creating music... strangely enough, I just finished 'The Concert Pianist' by Conrad Williams, about a pianist going through a mid-life crisis that seems very much like an author going through a bad case of writer's block.

Interesting about the autism - yes, I think the brain is the organ most likely to suffer from EMF pollution.

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