Could Wearable Computers be as Harmful As Cigarettes?

Tim Robinson/New York Times

Tim Robinson/New York Times

That’s the provocative question posed by Nick Bilton in yesterday’s New York Times.  So provocative that later in the day, the headline was changed to the more sober ‘The Health Concerns in Wearable Tech’.  Bilton writes:

We have long suspected that cellphones, which give off low levels of radiation, could lead to brain tumors, cancer, disturbed blood rhythms and other health problems if held too close to the body for extended periods.  Yet here we are in 2015, with companies like Apple and Samsung encouraging us to buy gadgets that we should attach to our bodies all day long.  While there is no definitive research on the health effects of wearable computers (the Apple Watch isn’t even on store shelves yet), we can hypothesize a bit from existing research on cellphone radiation.

So what was his conclusion?  As follows:

After researching this column, talking to experts and poring over dozens of scientific papers, I have realized the dangers of cellphones when used for extended periods, and as a result I have stopped holding my phone next to my head and instead use a headset.

That being said, when it comes to wearable computers, I’ll still buy the Apple Watch, but I won’t let it go anywhere near my head. And I definitely won’t let any children I know play with it for extended periods of time.

But Wired’s Nick Stockton has called this ‘An Attack on Science’,  arguing that any risk is still hypothetical rather than proven.  Popular Science also called the essay ‘naive’, ‘inaccurate and alarmist’.   Its advice?  Everybody just calm down.

To help you calm down, here are the blogposts of the week: Shelby Francis for writing about a true innovation and David Borghard for analysis.  And a good bonus read for sports fans here:  What the New York Times Learned from Pulling its Knicks Beat Writer this Season (Poynter).  If you’re too lazy to read it, one answer is that crowdsourcing basketball stories works.


1) The End of Big (Media): when News Organizations move from Brands to Platforms for Talent (Nieman)

2) World’s Best Blogger (Harvard Magazine) 

3) A Note to My Readers (Andrew Sullivan)

4) The Blog is Dead, Long Live the Blog (Two takes at Nieman and Guardian)

ASSIGNMENT:   Profile one person who is prominent in your field or covering your field – possibly a citizen journalist, but could be anyone – with extra credit if you actually interview them.   Feel free to experiment with format, so you could write a traditional blogpost, or use an email interview, twitter, storyful, an audio interview or a video interview. (For March 26)