I can't be the only one who sometimes romanticizes the idea of living a simpler, unplugged life. You know: flickering candlelight, a row of sheets drying on the clothesline. No nagging cellphones or blaring television screens or laptops bursting with deadlines. Perhaps a butter churn nearby.
The truth is, though, I'd miss my hair dryer. And the Internet. And the friendly commercial-skipping ba-doop ba-doop of the TiVo. Also, churning your own butter is probably a giant pain in the ass.
A British mom of two is living a life free of all electronics, but it's not by choice: after receiving chemo for bowel cancer three years ago, Janice Tunnicliffe developed a condition known as electrosensitivity. All of the modern conveniences we take for granted—TVs, lightbulbs, washing machines, Wi-Fi, cellphones, etc.—make her sick with headaches, chest pains, and nausea.
People with electrosensitivity believe that their symptoms are caused by the effects of the electromagnetic fields given off by electrical appliances in our environment. They often cover their rooms with tinfoil and avoid electrical equipment at all costs, and some go so far as to wear metallic shields over their heads.
As for Tunnicliffe, she and her husband have ditched basically every modern convenience from their house, and asked their neighbors to give up their Wi-Fi in favor of a direct cable connection. She spends her evenings playing board games by, you guessed it, candlelight.
Tunnicliffe says she initially noticed how she would feel sick at home, then much better when walking in the countryside, only to quickly sicken again upon returning home. When her husband began researching her symptoms on the Internet, the couple became aware of electrosensitivity.
So far, her doctors aren't taking her condition seriously. She says, “Unfortunately, the reaction I’ve received from doctors has not been great. There must be a link to the chemo but no one will admit it.”
Many researchers have looked for a connection between electromagnetic fields and EMF sensitivity syndrome, but no official links have been determined. A recent systematic review of the studies to date concludes that the symptoms described by “electromagnetic hypersensitivity” sufferers can indeed be severe and are sometimes disabling. The problem is, no one's been able to show under blind conditions that exposure to EMF can trigger these symptoms.
I'm really not sure what I think about electrosensitivity. My initial reaction is to feel skeptical about it, but I have no doubt something's making Janice Tunnicliffe and other sufferers feel sick. Is it really the exposure to electricity? Could there be some other factor involved? No way to know for sure, but I wonder if her new no-gadget life is less stressful ... or quite the opposite.
Have you ever heard of electrosensitivity? Do you think it's a real disease?
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