By 2015, about 135 years after we began laying out an electric power grid, we have nearly saturated our environment with electrical- and magnetic-frequency fields and amplitudes that do not exist in nature. We've changed the Earth's electromagnetic environment more significantly than any time since humans showed up on the planet. Most of this change comes from our electric power grid and, more recently, from cell phones and Wi-Fi.
What education prepares us to live with these massive environmental changes? What regulation protects us?
I'd like to describe four generations of education and regulation around electronic technologies. The first generation starts in 1925, when Gary's father, Roy Olhoeft, was a teenager with saved money. Roy asked his father, Gary's grandfather, Joseph, to let him buy a car.
Joseph Olhoeft was a master car mechanic. He and Roy found a $25 Model T Ford with a problem. Joseph instructed his son to lay every part of the car on the lawn, identify the problem and repair it. If Roy could reassemble the car and get it to drive correctly, he could have the Model T.
Sure enough, Roy found the worn-out washer in the transmission.
He went on to buy wrecked sports cars and fix them up for resale. Around 1930, with a crystal radio kit, Roy assembled his family's first radio.
Actually, by the 1930s, we'd had intercontinental radio--then called "the wireless"--for several decades. We had telephones and crude televisions, refrigerators, washing machines and military radar.
In 1934, Congress established the Federal Communications Commission, the FCC. "Go forth and market electronics," the FCC proclaimed to inventors, "as long as they don't create 'harmful interference.'" The FCC defined "harmful interference" as anything that interferes with existing licensed services such as radio or TV broadcasts.
Today, this definition includes cell phone and Internet services.
At the FCC, "harmful interference" has never included biological harm--that is, health or environmental harm caused by exposure to electromagnetic radiation (EMR) emitted by electronics.
Call this exclusion of nature. Call it disregard for the regulation to, first, do no harm.
The Second Generation of tech education and regulation starts around World War II, when electronic inventions flourished for the home and the military.
During the war, Roy Olhoeft served as a master sergeant, repairing P-51 Mustang Aircraft for the Army Air Corps.
The microwave oven was invented in 1945. Amana called it the RadarRange and began selling it to homemakers in 1967. Rapid development of post-war products outpaced regulation. Inventors sold vacuum cleaners, washers and dryers, shoe store x-rays to ensure a good fit, asbestos insulation, pesticides, electric toothbrushes, electric guitars and pianos, hair curlers, digital alarm clocks, electric cars and robotic surgery.
The first fully automated mobile phone system for vehicles was launched in Sweden in 1956. The first wireless computer communication network was installed in 1970 at the University of Hawaii. Email was introduced in 1972. IBM introduced its personal computer in 1981. We've got Bluetooth and Wi-Fi.
I could go on. You know the rules: as long as an invention does not interfere with existing radio, TV, cell phone or Internet services, the FCC says you can sell it.
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