Believe Your E-mail ... Or Not
How's this for a scary e-mail? My podmate received it recently from her wonderful mother-in-law, who likes to warn her family about all sorts of catastrophes "just in case." (Consider the warning she received just before a beach trip: Don't approach baby seals because they can grab you by the arm and crush you to death. And they weren't even going to a beach with seals!)
Here's the latest "just in case" alert sent by the well-meaning mother-in-law:
"Never, ever answer a cell phone while it is being CHARGED!!
A few days ago, a person was recharging his cell phone at home. Just at that time a call came and he answered it with the instrument still connected to the outlet. After a few seconds electricity flowed into the cell phone unrestrained and the young man was thrown to the ground with a heavy thud. His parents rushed to the room only to find him unconscious, with a weak heartbeat and burnt fingers.
He was rushed to the nearby hospital, but was pronounced dead on arrival. Cell phones are a very useful modern invention. However, we must be aware that it can also be an instrument of death.
Never use the cell phone while it is hooked to the electrical outlet!
FORWARD THIS TO THE PEOPLE THAT MATTER IN YOUR LIFE, I JUST DID !"
Of course, as is usually the case in these kinds of e-mails, the notice said this incident was true. As it said: "Checked out on www.snopes.com and it did happen."
As you all probably know, Snopes is a popular Web site to check the validity of many tales or urban legends making the Internet rounds. Well Snopes does say this claim is true, based on an incident in India in 2004. But Snopes adds that there have been no other accounts of similar accidents. "It is reasonable to conclude that the problem was specific" to that particular phone. Snopes also noted that manufacturing standards vary worldwide, and U.S. safety standards are such that "just because a cell phone manufactured half a world away may have killed its owner doesn't mean your unit harbors any potential to do the same to you."
The cell phone industry and Consumer Product Safety Commission both say they have never heard of people being electrocuted in the manner outlined in the e-mail. However, some cell phone batteries have been recalled for being fire hazards. But the industry and CPSC say that problem is primarily with counterfeit batteries and advise consumers to make sure they buy their products from well-known stores, not street vendors. (The CPSC has a list of tips on the safe use of cell phones, batteries and charges.)
Given all the caveats Snopes listed about the veracity of the cell-phone electrocution incident, I tried to contact Snopes to ask why it listed something as true when, all things considered, it probably was not. This was the second time I found that to be the case (see the item I wrote on a Visa/MasterCard scam). There was no phone number, only an e-mail address for queries. So I sent an e-mail, asking Snopes if it had considered saying something was "possible." After all, declaring something as "true" only escalates the legend's stature.
The only reply I got was a short e-mail:
"Thank you for writing to us! Although we receive hundreds of e-mails every day, we really and truly read them all, and your comments, suggestions, and questions are most welcome. Unfortunately, we cannot personally answer every piece of incoming e-mail." Instead, I should check out the Web site.
I did, and this is the best answer I could find:
"We rate an urban legend as "true" when there is sufficient evidence to indicate that the legend began with a real-life event. ... Many urban legends describe events so general and plausible that they might very well have happened to somebody, somewhere, sometime. But since seldom can a legend's origins be traced to a specific, identifiable occurrence, we rarely categorize them as "true. ... Many of the texts we discuss contain a mixture of truth, falsity, and exaggeration which cannot be accurately described by a single "True" or "False" rating. Therefore, our rating may be based upon what we have chosen as the single most important aspect of the text under discussion."
All well and good. Based on that criteria, maybe Snopes should review the truth of some of its legends, starting with the cell phone electrocution incident.
Please email us to report offensive comments.
Posted by: Derek Sugimura | March 14, 2006 10:23 AM
Posted by: Whatever | March 14, 2006 10:58 AM
Posted by: Parasaur | March 14, 2006 11:10 AM
Posted by: Cell Phone Owner | March 14, 2006 11:13 AM
Posted by: come on, this is the Washington Post. | March 14, 2006 11:15 AM
Posted by: DOOM! | March 14, 2006 11:24 AM
Posted by: Dude | March 14, 2006 12:05 PM
Posted by: Daughter in-law | March 14, 2006 1:23 PM
Posted by: poppo | March 14, 2006 1:30 PM
Posted by: Ronald | March 14, 2006 1:58 PM
Posted by: Taniwha | March 14, 2006 3:25 PM
Posted by: Re: Baby Seal | March 14, 2006 4:16 PM
Posted by: ML | March 14, 2006 6:29 PM
Posted by: El Tonno | March 14, 2006 6:39 PM
Posted by: h3 | March 14, 2006 8:14 PM
Posted by: a Minnesota fan | March 15, 2006 10:33 AM
Posted by: Alan Smythie | March 15, 2006 11:10 AM
Posted by: Matt | March 15, 2006 11:14 AM
Posted by: I agree | March 16, 2006 1:18 PM
Posted by: Where are they? | March 23, 2006 10:59 AM
Posted by: Linda | March 27, 2006 8:38 PM
Posted by: Stan Boswell | March 28, 2006 6:53 PM
Posted by: Varon | August 4, 2006 8:17 PM
The comments to this entry are closed.