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Increasingly, our daily lives are mediated by pervasive technologies that govern and direct our routines; they envelop our every animate and inanimate interaction. So embedded are these electronics that functioning without them seems impossible.

This pervasiveness is constantly highlighted for people afflicted with multiple chemical sensitivity (MCS) or electrical sensitivity (ES). For them, technologies are a malevolent phenomenon, causing them to actively restructure their careers, academic life, and social circles in order to avoid certain technologies and maintain their health.

Individuals with MCS develop negative reactions from chemical exposure to everyday substances, such as paints, perfumes, and chemical cleaners, to name a few. There are two stages to the sensitivity: induction and triggering. Induction occurs when a person’s contact with a chemical leads to the development of a (sometimes permanent) sensitivity. Triggering follows: the person develops certain symptoms when in the vicinity of the aforementioned chemical.

MCS symptoms are said to manifest in various organs, including the respiratory, digestive, neurological, endocrine, urinary, cardiovascular and immune systems. These symptoms vary among people, and can lead to health problems that range from mild and manageable to life-threatening. So while some individuals may only experience mild symptoms like headaches and nausea, a recent study has linked such serious effects as blood clots and cardiac arrest to chemical exposure in cases of MCS.

ES has been identified by many as an illness triggered by exposure to everyday levels of electro magnetic fields from electrical sources in the environment: power lines, computers, wireless networks, et cetera. ES symptoms are extensive and somewhat similar to those found in MCS. They include skin irritation, memory loss, fatigue, and heart problems.

Yet, despite the tangible symptoms of ES, doctors and scientists have been dismissive of the illness, with speculations of its psychosomatic nature retaining prevalence. MCS was defined by Allergy UK as the “21st Century Disease”, confirming its status to many as a “proven” illness. However, the American Medical Association does not recognize MCS as an illness with a known pathology. The AMA verdict is the same for ES.

“We don’t contest that some people get some disabling symptoms that are very real,” Doctor Michael Clark, the UK’s Health Protection Agency scientific spokesman told the BBC in 2005.  “Over the last thirty years and all over the world, no links have been found between these symptoms and any form of exposure … For people with MCS, it’s a different matter. There is evidence that some people are sensitive to some chemicals.”

Seven years later, electrical sensitivity remains an under-researched health problem, leaving those afflicted to devise their own means of coping with it – without being granted disability, as MCS continues to be unacknowledged by the American Medical Association as qualifying for disability.

Living in a major city becomes impossible for many with ES, necessitating relocation to less technologically-reliant regions. They must revert back to a more manual time: the continual communication enabled by cell phones and laptops, as well as the normalcy of cars, microwaves and televisions must be given up.

These individuals, who find themselves stigmatized in a techno-fetishist society and unable to immerse themselves in a virtual web, are perhaps good spokespeople for a return to more insulated, individual living that is arguably healthier. Daily life where mobility is reliant on bicycles, where cooking is possible without microwave nuking, and where there is an understanding that it is okay for someone not to get ahold of you for a week or so seems like an idyll for many, but is necessary for those with ES.

In the most simplistic summation, then, environmentally-imposed health concerns hold the potential to necessitate for these individuals a healthier lifestyle outside this environment –one they would not have worked toward achieving before.


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