Ashton, J. and R. S. Laura. Perils Of Progress: The Health and Environment Hazards of Modern Technology and What You Can Do About Them. London: Zed Books, 1998.

The central idea behind this work is that while technology has undoubtedly improved the standard of living for much of the industrialized world, the cost to both the environment and human health has been extremely high. It also rebels against the notion that commitments to ever more intensive uses of technology, particularly to remedy damage inflicted by previous technology use, are "inherently disruptive of the established harmony and rhythm of nature." The book does suggest, however, that human behavior and expectations can be adjusted to minimize the damage done.

The book is divided into seventeen chapters, only one of which has direct bearing on this project. That chapter deals with computer visual display units (VDUs) and televisions. The authors purport that these devices have a number of negative effects that can lead to substantial health problems in the long term. They suggest that high levels of radio-frequency electromagnetic fields emanate from VDUs and TVs, inducing currents in the body, similar to the effect of being near high voltage transmission lines. They speculate that because several studies have linked incidence of leukemia with living close to such power lines, people who sit within one meter of such displays may be facing a similar risk.

The authors also discuss other health aspects of the VDUs and TVs. Because the flyback transformer, used to provide the picture scanning voltage, creates subsonic or ultrasonic noise of up to 68 decibels, it can potentially lead to headaches and irritability. The static electric fields produced by cathode ray tubes may cause skin irritation, as well as generating large numbers of positively charged ions which have been associated with malaise and lethargy. Unlike the natural environment, where almost all light exposure is from reflected light, TVs and VDTs bath viewers' eyes with direct light from the screen. The authors suggest that this unnatural optical stimulus stresses the eye and can lead to problems such as photosensitive epilepsy. Because natural light also functions as a signal to the pineal gland, which helps to modulate hormonal levels throughout the body, limiting our exposure to natural light in favor of the unnatural light of TVs and VDTs can wreak havoc with our body chemistry.


While many of the authors' conclusions are highly speculative and cite few well-known or well-regarded scientific or medical studies, the concerns they raise are legitimate enough to warrant significant further research. Until that research is conducted, however, it is quite logical to follow the modest guidelines they suggest at the end of the chapter. Interestingly, despite their findings, they do not advocate complete elimination of VDT/TV use. They do suggest that such use should be minimized, that children and adults should be encouraged to sit as far away from screens as practicable to minimize exposure to magnetic and electric fields, and that individuals who must spend a great deal of time working with VDTs or TVs spend time out-of-doors, where the eye can focus on distant objects, to compensate for the eyestrain caused by long hours of close focusing.

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