On WhatsApp, almost every user in India may have received a message about a missing young boy or girl with their parent (!) contact numbers and a request to help them search these kids. It may be true, but only sometimes. Most of the times, this appears to be a happy (misunderstood) forwarded message about doing a good social work. What shocks me more is that almost every recipient, without even thinking, simply forwards such messages. Similarly, several hoaxes that started with the expansion of Internet have now turned into technological myths. For example, there is an urban myth about how lightning gets attracted towards a mobile phone or camera flash and how a user was killed or injured. This is nothing but an urban technological myth, spread and kept alive by the educated illiterates.
A few days ago, there was an incident near Kolhapur where one person died as he was struck by lightning. His family also received some injuries and they said that when the lightning struck, he was talking on his mobile. Soon, there were several urban ‘experts’ sending out messages about not using mobile phones during a storm, especially when there is lightning. Some of those, whose names are used, are also labelled as ‘expert in disaster management’!
According to US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), during storms, using mobile phone or cordless phones is safe because there is no direct path between the user and the lightning. However, avoid using a landline phone during a storm, unless it is an emergency, it advises. A Stanford University paper on “Lightning Effect on Cell Phones”, written by Shiv Agarwal, also says, “Cell phones (and cordless portable phones) used indoors during electrical storms are perfectly safe because there is no wire through which the electric discharge could travel. The belief that lightning can follow the radio waves is completely unfounded.”
What the message forwarding experts (!) fail to understand is that probably the person talking on a mobile phone, in this case, was struck by lightning because he may have been the tallest object around when the lightning struck and not due to usage of cell phone. Electricity requires a medium to pass through; otherwise, we would not have the network of electric towers, poles and wires hanging around (most of the places). The next time, ask the person (who has forwarded such a message) to direct his electric pole towards you so that you can recharge the batteries of your mobile through the air!
The same can be said to the person using a camera flash of mobile for shooting photos. Remember, there is no medium available for the lightning or electric current to pass through to the person taking photos.
Some may ask about wireless charging. This is a different technology, known as inductive charging, where an electromagnetic field (EMF) is used to transfer energy between two objects. In this, an induction coil is used to create an alternating EMF from the charging base. A second induction coil in the portable device or the recipient takes power from the EMF and reconverts it to electric current. But it has its own limitation—distance, for example. Both the charger and device need to be kept in close proximity which may cause inconvenience for users. More about this in future.
Another myth is that charging your device overnight is dangerous. In the earliest devices, there was a chance of the battery (nickel-cadmium) exploding due to overheating. However, all newer devices automatically stop charging once the battery reaches 100% level. Some people may be afraid to use a charger from a different mobile manufacturer; it is safe to use.