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Petri dish in my pocket

cellphone2

Let’s start with word definition. What is “staphylococcus aureus”? Like many words in the medical profession, the root word of staphylococcus aureus is Greek until it evolved into a phrase used by doctors today to make us lay people understand less our illnesses. Why can’t they just tell us that we have these nasty bacteria that look like a bunch of grapes under the microscope and are poised to invade our bloodstream until we die of acne?

Seriously, when the ancient Greeks mentioned the word “staphyle,” they referred to a “bunch of grapes,” not the bacteria that can cause pneumonia, meningitis, gastroenteritis and other potentially serious infections in man, like addiction to noontime shows.

These two opposing images evoked by the same word fit perfectly to what I’m going to talk about now. Before I myself will find it difficult to understand what I’m saying here, let me put it this way: the “bunch of grapes” of ancient Greeks is now the modern man’s ubiquitous cell phone. Get it? How can a gadget so useful in man’s daily activities be associated with a cluster of scary bacteria?

I often ignore reports of my cell phone as filthier than a toilet seat. What’s with the comparison? Yes, I drop my cell phone into the toilet bowl every now and then (gross!), but the association should stop there, because if you stretch the comparison further, you’ll soon find yourself touching your face against the toilet seat to check if there’s signal there.

And the way bacteriologists issue advisories against our beloved cell phones starts to be annoying. I first heard about it in 2006. The news said germs multiply in warm places. Between the heat my cell phone generates and the germs on my face and hands, there exists a perfect bacterial breeding ground, a petri dish, the report said. And the places where we keep our cell phones – pockets, purses, bags – provide just the right temperature, darkness and humidity for another life form to evolve.

“You don’t want a thing that filthy to touch your face, do you?” the advisory said. “Oh, my God!” I said in horror. “And I kiss my girlfriend’s picture in my cell phone!” For a second right there, I missed my beeper.

Now, the advisories come more regularly, like it is the war in Iraq that is being reported. Only there are no updates, no additional bodies arriving in caskets, no villages wiped out by bombs, no journalists throwing shoes at a president. It’s always the same poor, innocent toilet seat, and the same staphylococcus aureus that are used to explain how filthy my cell phone is.

And the public (by public I mean the three cell phone addict friends whom I consulted for this article) don’t care. If we take heed, what next? Eating ginabot can cause blindness? The problem here is that we can’t do away with cell phones, they said. Its usefulness far outweighs the potential danger it brings to our health. It’s like the toilet seat… Oh, that comparison again.

So I ignore these anti-cell phone advisories as nothing but an elaborate scheme by some companies that sell anti-bacterial wipes or something.

After scaring me with the same your-cell-phone-is-a-petri-dish argument, one ad said, “These wipes are specially made to clean your cell phone, laptop and other gadgets. They are fast drying, non-streaking, non-corrosive, and they even smell like green tea-cucumber. P220 for a pack is a small price to pay for your health.”

No thanks, but I want my cell phone to smell like the earth right after a rain. Ha! Or do you have the original Greek smell of staphyle? I might reconsider.

(SUN.STAR, MARCH 17, 2009)

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One Response to “Petri dish in my pocket”

  1. I noticed that this is not the first time at all that you mention the topic. Why have you decided to write about it again?


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