I often roll my eyes (subtly, I hope) as I listen to people report their fears of modern technology. Much of what I hear is unorganized repetition of myths. However, the rolling of my eyes is usually the most I dare offer to these conversations. I believe that many of these fears and complaints simply reflect nature’s abhorrence of both physical and metaphysical vacuums. Naturally, we humans need to fill in the blanks. There isn’t much point in being human otherwise—or much fun. Our abhorrence of vacuums fills both cradle and grave. Therefore, I try not to claim I’m above menial irrationalities. And it would be a lonely argument anyway.
I recently purchased a new microwave oven from Sears. Its predecessor had degraded from a useful appliance capable of destroying frozen lasagna in minutes to something that wouldn’t keep a hamster warm. I don’t like cooked hamster, but I do enjoy other food substances when served and eaten in a hot-ish state. This means a good microwave oven is at least as important to me as my refrigerator. In my galley kitchen, the microwave oven is conveniently located to the right of the sink, plugged into a dedicated circuit. In my house, the only other devices that rate dedicated circuits are the stove, the furnace, and the computer.
The most dangerous object in my kitchen, I’ve always assumed, is my boning knife. But since I’ve been using this new oven, I’ve been experiencing horrible headaches and eye-strain in the evenings. Allergies, I thought. Then this evening, while I was working at the sink, I turned my head to look at the new oven as it was heating some frozen chicken strips. While I was griping to myself about another headache setting in, I noticed that I could see into the oven through a thin gap in the door’s hinge. It turns out the front of the oven is misassembled! Even worse, because of where the magnetron is located inside the oven, any leaking microwave energy is likely aimed exactly where I stand while I’m working.
Like any vacuum-abhorring myth builder, I went straight to the internet to search for ‘facts’. It turns out that microwave oven facts and myths are a challenge to sift through. Who knew that Nazi scientists designed these devices as weapons, or that their use is unregulated and commercialized only in countries with capitalist-controlled governments (apparently, this has not been satisfactorily proven by such governments to not be true). It turns out there is some agreement between various lists of symptoms of exposure of humans to various types of microwave energy. At the top of the list is elevated temperature of affected tissues (duh!). Listed among common neurological symptoms of exposure to microwave energy are headaches and eyestrain–though the physiology is not well understood.
How much physiology about my headaches do I really need to understand? I don’t have an instrument for quantifying and qualifying the presence of leaking microwave energy. I also don’t have an instrument for measuring the presence and effects of various allergens in my home. I certainly don’t have an instrument for measuring the presence of vacuums in my head (my old blogs not withstanding). Nonetheless, that new microwave oven is going back to Sears tomorrow.
April 11, 2012