Contemporary Legend

My mother sent me the following email: “A few days ago, a person was recharging his cell phone at home.  Just at that time a call came in and he answered it with the instrument still connected to the outlet.  After a few seconds electricity flowed into the cell phone unrestrained and the young man was thrown to the ground with a heavy thud.  His parents rushed to the room only to find him unconscious, with a weak heartbeat and burnt fingers.  He was rushed to the nearby hospital, but was pronounced dead on arrival.  Cell phones are a very useful modern invention. However, we must be aware that it can also be an instrument of death.  Never use the cell phone while it is hooked to the electrical outlet!”

My mother constantly sends me emails warning me of the dangers of cell phones.  She receives these emails from her coworkers and forwards them to me so that I will be more cautious when using my cell phone.  The emails usually are written in bold print and contain graphic images of fires or explosions caused by cell phones.  In this specific email, the text was followed by a picture of a man covered in bloody bandages, laying in a hospital bed unconscious.  The intention is that the reader will be shocked by the images and more likely to heed the warning contained in the body of the email.

Although the email says that using a cell phone that is plugged into an electrical outlet can be deadly, this is a statement that has yet to be proven.  I have used my phone while it has been plugged in and nothing happened.  While I agree that it is possible for a cell phone fire to occur, I think it is a very rare occurrence that probably happens as a result of a defect in the phone.  It seems like these types of stories circulate the internet because they easily incite fear and are often anonymous, so it is hard to discredit the source of the email.  Though people may say they do not believe in seemingly exaggerated urban legends, the inability to completely expose such emails as fiction often subconsciously influences how people view things.  For instance, even though I do not think using my cell phone while it is charging is dangerous, I still unplug my phone before I use it.  The shadow of doubt in my mind and the idea of “what if…” always forces me to unplug it just incase something bad happens that could be avoided.

Furthermore, as more information about cell phones is readily available to the general public, it seems likely that such urban legends will decrease in number and popularity.  These legends are so successful because they are not falsifiable.  Once people learn more about how cell phones work, they will be less likely to fear the unknown world of modern technology.  In my own life, I have stopped receiving so many cautionary emails from my mother about the dangers of cell phone usage since she has started to use her cell phone more and become more familiar with it.  Now whenever I receive these emails, I find them humorous as opposed to scary or insightful, which is the opposite reaction than is intended.