Tuesday, 08 Sep 2020
Why are People Often Afraid of New Technologies like 5G?
By Dr Becky Spelman
Throughout the history of humanity, there have always been many people whose first response to any new technologies is fear and anxiety. Partly, this is just a fear of the unknown; we are creatures of habit, and we depend to a great extent on heuristics, or the simple strategies that we develop that form the basis of quick decision-making. When we are confronted with something new, that we do not understand, we have no pre-learned reactions to it, and the effect can be very disconcerting.
Often, when they encounter a new technology, people respond to it with great suspicion, and are inclined to attribute anything negative they feel or experience to it. Over the years, glass, bicycles, photography, electricity, microwaves, and many more examples of new technologies have been the source of fear, with all sorts of physical and psychological health issues attributed to them.
Currently, 5G mobile technology is the focus of concern, with many attributing a wide range of health problems to the technology. This has even led, in some cases, to engineers and other workers associated with 5G being attacked and 5G infrastructure being destroyed. One conspiracy theory even maintains that Covid-19 was really being spread by 5G masts, a theory that has absolutely no relationship with the truth.
Of course, it really is important to assess the potential to cause harm of any new technology, but many people refuse to believe proof that new technologies are harmless, and as a result, any time they experience a health problem that cannot be explained, they assume that it has something to do with the technology that is making them anxious. In fact, the more deeply entrenched their belief that the technology is harmful becomes, the more likely they are to consider studies that show that it is harmless to be part of a complicated conspiracy to disguise the truth.
The reality is that while many ailments can be diagnosed and treated accordingly, people can also suffer from symptoms that have no obvious cause. This does not mean that their discomfort is not real, or that they are imagining it, but simply that doctors do not know what is causing the problem. In some ways, feeling that there is a known cause, an “enemy”, can provide a degree of psychological relief. If they identify the new technology—5G or whatever else is making them anxious—at least they feel that they know a little about the problem they are dealing with, and that they might be able to do something about it.
Treating these patients with respect, and helping them to find ways to minimise the impact of the symptoms on their quality of life is crucial, and the sense of agency that they will develop from feeling a modicum of control will also make them less inclined to subscribe to conspiracy theories.
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Novella, Steve (May 15, 2019). “5G Is Coming”. Science-Based Medicine.
Waterson, Jim and Hern, Alex. How False Claims about 5G Health Risks Spread into the Mainstream. The Guardian, April 7th, 2020. Retrieved from https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2020/apr/07/how-false-claims-about-5g-health-risks-spread-into-the-mainstream