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My Low-EMF Computing Setup – Love Your Work, Episode 255
I recently got a message from a reader, who said, “I don’t know if it’s meditation or you reaching a new level professionally, but I feel like your writing is on FIRE!” I do feel my writing has improved over the last year. They’re right to think the meditation I talked about on episode 246 has helped. If I had to pick one thing that has improved my writing, it’s starting to use the Zettelkasten method I talked about on episode 250. But I wouldn’t be able to manage my Zettelkasten if it weren’t for a recent breakthrough in how, physically, I write. It wouldn’t be possible without my new low-EMF computing setup.
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What are EMFs?
On episode 206, my Non-Tinfoil Guide to EMFs summary, I talked about evidence suggesting non-ionizing EMFs, or electromagnetic fields, may cause health problems. EMFs are emitted by electronic devices, such as smartphones, tablets, and computers – even the electricity these items run on emits EMFs. (I’m cautious to use the term “radiation”, since – as the irrationally rational are always quick to point out – it’s non-ionizing radiation. But it is radiation).
When I learned about these potential health effects, I started to look more closely at my day-to-day exposure. What I discovered through trial-and-error has changed the way I use electronics, and it has improved my well-being, and thus the clarity of my thoughts and the clarity of my writing.
Your Mileage May Vary
I’ll preface this with a couple things. One is that I have long struggled with a mysterious illness. I won’t go too far into details here, but my worst symptoms are chronic muscle tension, brain fog, and a wide breadth of food sensitivities. One doctor thinks it’s chronic Lyme disease, and I’m one of the unlucky people highly sensitive to the contents of amalgam fillings, as I’ve been responding very well to replacing my fillings and following a heavy-metal chelation protocol.
Everything I just said is controversial in traditional medicine, and I remain open-minded about the true sources of my suffering. The fact remains I’m one person, living in this body for what remains of this life, and I can’t wait for definitive answers when it comes to treatment and management – especially when all traditional avenues have repeatedly failed me.
But I mention these things to say, also, that Your Mileage May Vary. You may have zero sensitivities to EMFs, and you may deem the potential health risks worth the benefits. I am not here to convince you that I am sensitive to EMFs, nor that you are sensitive to EMFs. I’m only here to share what I wish I had known years ago.
Electrohypersensitivity (EHS): Is it real?
I’m 95% sure that I have electromagnetic hypersensitivity, or EHS. This, once again, is controversial in the medical establishment. Some say this is totally a thing. Others say it’s all in my head. Governments such as France and parts of Sweden recognize EHS as a disability. But The World Health Organization does not recognize EHS as a medical condition, despite the fact a former head of WHO claims to suffer from EHS. The WHO suggests – in addition to searching for other root causes such as noise or flickering lights – Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. Still, as much as 10% of a population have reported they suffer from EHS.
Well, I’ve done plenty of therapy, and I’ve done a ton of meditation. I’ve pushed the edges of self-control and self-knowledge in emotional, behavioral, and dietary interventions. I’ve systematized and tracked diets and symptoms, trying to reduce noise and find patterns. I’m an active student of the many biases and errors of observation that can cause one to fool oneself. Still, reducing my exposure to certain bands of EMFs has been one of the biggest breakthroughs in my health struggle.
I can’t be 100% sure, but I’m sure enough that I’ve changed how I use technology, and I feel much better since I’ve done so.
Which types of EMF to reduce?
When I started trying to reduce my exposure to EMFs in my daily computing, I was thinking only of WiFi, Bluetooth and LTE. I started using a wired Ethernet connection at home. I reduced my use of Bluetooth devices. I felt better, but it wasn’t a dramatic improvement.
Then, I noticed something strange: On my iPad, I could write for hours. On my computer, I quickly got fatigued. I had long used a program on my computer that reminded me to take a break every hour. Whenever that reminder came, I was already having trouble concentrating. I didn’t have that program on my iPad, and I didn’t need it. I got fatigued less often on my iPad.
No, a wired keyboard is not magically low-EMF
I got a wired external keyboard, and distanced myself from my computer, thinking maybe my fatigue had something to do with being close to the computer itself. Again, I saw an improvement, but whenever I returned after a break, I could feel muscles in my chest twitch and tighten, and my breath shorten. Even far away from my computer, on a wired keyboard, I needed to limit my computer use, and take long breaks.
I tried to do as much as I could on my iPad. But, strangely, I had to use a lightweight keyboard to use my iPad without symptoms. If I hooked up my heavy-duty keyboard to my iPad, I soon had the muscle tension and shortness of breath.
Bluetooth may be your best bet (than again, maybe not!)
It wasn’t until I distanced myself from anything physically connected to the computer that I could use it for hours without fatigue and trouble concentrating. Surprisingly, this meant using a wireless trackpad, and a wireless keyboard. That’s right: Bluetooth.
When I finally bought a meter, I realized that in the electric field band – AC power is 60Hz – my computer emitted way more EMFs than my iPad. My wired keyboard I had carefully selected also emitted high EMFs in this band, when connected to my computer. And, this same keyboard emitted high EMFs, even when connected to my iPad – which helped explain why I had symptoms when using it with my iPad.
Based on my personal experimentation, I’m not terribly sensitive to Bluetooth, nor WiFi, nor LTE. I think I am a little sensitive to all of them, but it’s nothing like when I’m exposed 60Hz radiation. That’s when my symptoms are at their worst.
I optimize my EMF exposure more to be able to actually work than to avoid health effects. Bluetooth and WiFi are possibly not good for you – then again, maybe they’ll make no long-term difference to your health. I avoid unnecessary exposure when practical, but am mostly concerned with being able to work.
Know which band(s) you’re sensitive to
If you suspect you are EHS, keep an open mind about which bands of EMF, specifically, you are sensitive to. I feel better when I reduce exposure to 60Hz. I’ve met other people who say Bluetooth and WiFi are their nemeses. For others, it’s LTE. Others are sensitive to the new 5G technology (I can’t believe I have to say this, but please don’t lump EHS sufferers in with 5G conspiracy theorists.)
After I discovered I was sensitive to electricity, it made sense why I needed to take such frequent breaks when using my laptop, but not my iPad. It also made a lot of sense why I had gravitated toward writing on an AlphaSmart. At first, I thought my improved concentration on either of these devices had to do with the lack of ease with which I could access other information – which would effect my propensity to think about other information (the characteristics I called “slippy” and “grippy” on episode 230). I posit this affects my stress response, and thus my symptoms, but I don’t think it explains the drastic differences in my symptoms across these devices.
My low-EMF computing setup
So, Your Mileage May Vary, but here is my low-EMF computing setup.
I keep my laptop a few feet away at all times
I keep my laptop a few feet away from me at all times. Yes, this means that I never use my laptop as a laptop, and I use an external display. You may wonder, Why don’t I get a Mac Mini or a desktop computer? I’ll explain why in a bit.
I experimented with keeping my laptop several feet away, in a closet, and considered constructing an EMF-blocking enclosure for it – called a Faraday cage. This would be nice, but since Bluetooth is my best option for peripherals, a few feet away provides the best mix of lower EMF exposure, and somewhat-reliable connectivity for my keyboard and trackpad.
The only times I’ve used my laptop as a portable computer over the past coronavirus year has been to take it into my recording studio. I still try to stay as far away from my computer as possible, but in these cases I’m using the screen on the laptop, and EMFs are emitted by my microphone. So, the time I can spend recording is limited, before my thinking gets cloudy. It takes time to recover if I get to that point.
I use battery power whenever possible
My laptop emits less electric field radiation when running off battery power, so I use battery power on my laptop whenever possible. I keep my laptop plugged into an AC power switch. In this way, it is plugged in, but not pulling power, because the switch is in the “off” position. For reasons I don’t understand, my laptop emits a weaker EMF in this way – perhaps this grounds it. When I’m low on battery power, or when I’m leaving my office for a while, I switch the power on, to recharge the battery.
Anything that is connected to AC power emits an electric field. Even dormant outlets themselves emit one. Peripherals connected to the laptop also emit this radiation.
When I use battery power, that lowers the power of the electric field emitted by my laptop, and by any peripherals connected to it – such as my monitor, a webcam, or a microphone. There is still some, but it is lower. And that is why I don’t have a desktop computer – it’s better for me to run on battery power.
I use an external monitor
I use an external monitor, attached to my laptop. I don’t use my laptop screen at all. I point the laptop screen away from me so it doesn’t distract me. I wish I could operate my laptop with an external monitor and the laptop closed, but on my laptop this only works when it is connected to AC power. That of course would greatly increase the power of the electric fields the computer and all peripherals emitted.
I have not experimented with different monitors to find which ones emit less radiation – I just bought the cheapest and smallest monitor I could find. The monitor has to be connected to AC power to operate, but the radiation emitted is lower when the laptop is running off battery power, as radiation travels through the HDMI cable.
I suppose I could get a large tablet and use that as an external monitor, with battery power, perhaps even connected through AirPlay. I have not experimented with that yet. As I write this it seems like a clearly better idea.
I keep my distance with a rolling overbed table
I have a rolling overbed table, which I bought to write on while laid back in my recliner.
My favorite new writing setup: In a recliner, with one of those over-bed tables you might see in a hospital.— ? David Kadavy (@kadavy) July 30, 2020
Laid back, with my mind on writing and writing on my mind. pic.twitter.com/5tpvF67rr0
I now also use this overbed table to keep my distance from my monitor when at my computer. Since my monitor is connected to AC power, it emits a lot of 60Hz radiation, and I notice if I get too close.
Since I stay back a few feet, I’ve adjusted my display settings to display things larger. Again, being so far from my display probably wouldn’t be necessary if I used a large tablet, on battery power, as my monitor. I don’t feel sensitive to my iPad when I write on it from quite close. It emits very little radiation. Larger tablets probably emit more, though in comparison it’s probably negligible.
I use a Bluetooth keyboard
The first keyboard I tried was a mechanical iKBC CD87 v2, based upon another article on low-EMF keyboards. This article had said that mechanical keyboards emit less radiation. I now realize it didn’t specify what band of radiation. I still developed muscle tension, fatigue, and brain fog when using this keyboard far from my computer, and even when connected to my iPad.
I experimented with using, on my computer, the portable keyboard I use with my iPad, in Bluetooth mode. It was a big improvement. This was when I realized I was not nearly as sensitive to Bluetooth radiation as I am to AC power. So, I set out to find a nice Bluetooth keyboard.
I decided on the Mistel Barocco MD770, which is a mechanical split keyboard with both Bluetooth and wired capability (I went for the extra-clicky Cherry MX Blue switches). Like any Bluetooth keyboard I’ve used, its connection is flakey at times – especially since I use it several feet from my laptop. But for the first time in years, I can work on my computer for hours with little fatigue.
I use a Bluetooth trackpad
For mousing I use a Bluetooth Magic Trackpad 2. In the beginning of my low-EMF computing quest, I was using this wired to my laptop. Once I realized AC power was my biggest culprit, I switched to Bluetooth, which was an improvement. However, I do wire the trackpad to my iPad without a problem.
I use an EMF meter to optimize my setup
The EMF meter I use to optimize my low-EMF computing setup is the Meterk. It’s very cheap – only about $35. It only measures electric fields and magnetic fields, so not Bluetooth, nor WiFi, nor radio frequencies. AC power is what I’m most sensitive to, so I’m satisfied with how this meter helps me manage exposure. Anyone sensitive to other bands will want to get a meter that measures the offending bands. Many people like the Trifield.
Then again, I’m not entirely sure that what’s measured by a meter in a particular band directly translates into effects EMFs have on the cells in one’s body. This could be part of why scientists are having trouble agreeing on whether EHS even exists. Really there’s nothing better than experimenting until you come up with what works for you.
There’s my low-EMF computing setup
There’s my low-EMF computing setup. It’s admittedly strange. I hope none of you are sensitive to your devices, because as you can see it’s massively inconvenient – bordering on debilitating – when you work with computers most of the day. Still, the effort and extra expense has paid off big for me. If you’re one of the many people with a mysterious chronic illness, it may be worth experimenting to see if EMFs are contributing to your symptoms. If you are sensitive to EMFs, I hope this gives you some ideas for how you can be productive and feel better when working with technology.
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