Massachusetts Daily Collegian

Prioritizing our personal dangers

By Lauren Rockoff

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There are a million things to fear and avoid on the Univeristy of Massachusetts campus and in the greater world beyond.

A year ago, most of us were obsessing about the Bisphenol A (BPA) and phthalates or whatever in the plastic of our water bottles. A small minority – mostly hippy and eco-loving types – did something about it, and began using stainless steal water bottles probably filled with water from their plastic Brita water filters.

You may remember how years ago, people actually cared about the dangers of too much computer use. They had infomercials for a special protective screen you could put over your computer monitor to protect your brain and other soft muscles from attack by radioactive stuff and other dangerous materials. Not to mention, the risks of looking at a screen all day was thought to be detrimental to the health of the eyes.

Then there was all that business about soy. First it was advised that women include large helpings of it in their diets, but then questions of its links to breast and uterine cancers began popping up and the noise died down.

Headphones. Back in the days before iPods, people still considered the damaging effects of headphone use on hearing. Now with the rampant use of headphones by much of the world – specifically the tiny little ear buds that actually get inserted in the ear – fear of ear damage has become a thing of the past.

Maybe the science disproving all these health risks was so definitive that the world had no choice but to let all their worries about things disappear. But it’s much more likely that something else has brought about the carefree attitudes we’ve adopted.

Like, for instance, the fact that we just want to use the products and technologies we’ve come to enjoy using, without having to consider for a minute that we might be hurting ourselves in the long run. And we certainly don’t want to spend all of our time paranoid about the tiny little ways we may be endangering ourselves.

Still, I’ve talked to many a friend who has expressed worry about the fact that they carry their cell phones conveniently in their coat or pants pocket or lie in bed with their laptops placed directly over their ovaries. Whether we want to believe it or not, these wonderful technologies are having some sort of effect on our bodies. And though we may not be able to see the damage right now, do we really want to take that risk?

So for those who have these thoughts, who read the explosive “Time” articles about the safety of toys made in other countries or cell phones pressed up against our ears or stowed dangerously close to our reproductive organs, two coping mechanisms appear to be most effective.

The first is a combination of denial and/or avoidance. Unwilling to expose ourselves to information which might transform us into obsessive compulsive hand-sanitizers, land-line-only-users or naturopaths, many of us choose to remain aloof. Ignorant of the many hazards in our midst, life is kept almost manageable. Life’s already complicated enough, we say, why make it any more confusing or scary?

Second, we have the jokers. Everybody’s a comedian. Like last night, for instance, I was on the phone with a close friend. After about an hour, she jokingly sighed and asked, “So, you think all of us are going to end up with brain tumors because of cell phones, one day?”

“Yep,” I answer, briefly considering the thought of hanging up my cell and calling her landline from my house phone. The thought passed, though, and our conversation continued, unfettered by the potential damage we were inflicting on our persons as we spoke.

That one’s probably a combination of the joking and the denial.

The fact is, we actually have to choose what we’re going to spend our time worrying about. Though a particular worry may enter our brains, with all kinds of evidence to back it up, we still have the completely acceptable option to just ignore it. We can just let it go, and move on.

Or we can randomly pick a few, and be viewed as hypocrites or clean freaks or paranoid types. I’ve heard them all. But right now, for no incredibly clear reason, I have chosen to focus on the following three safety worries, myself: water bottles, aluminum cans, and dryer sheets.

I won’t bore you with the inception of these three fears. However, I will tell you, that whenever possible, I try to use my UMass dining water bottle (filled with water from a plastic Brita pitcher), choose glass containers over aluminum cans, and avoid dryer sheets like the plague.

The fact of the matter is that we can’t avoid the dangers of everything in our environments. We live in a built-up world, swimming with concealed uncovered manholes, and there’s really not a ton we can do about it without sacrificing our sanity. Still, as I write this, my left arm pulses with the muscle pain of the flu shot I just got. And I highly recommend you get one too.

Lauren Rockoff is a Collegian columnist.  She can be reached at [email protected].

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