A Poker Player’s Approach Regarding the Perils of Cell Phones

(or) You’re Going to Use One Anyway, But At Least Be Smart About It 

I’m going to reveal a powerful secret that could make you millions. Believe it or not, this secret will also help you decide how much, if at all, you should use your cell phone. I’ll get to the secret in a bit but my main point is that in poker and in life, we have to make decisions with incomplete information. We’re so accustomed, from school, to think that there is a right answer that we go through searching for the answer key. What we need to do, instead, is hone our ability to make decisions. 

Doyle Brunson has been one of the best poker players in the world for fifty years. He has the ability to process dozens of variables at once (the odds, the cards, your expressions, and patterns from past hands, just for starters) and once he does, he acts decisively. Even with all Brunson’s gifts, he is often wrong. He has made tens of millions of dollars because he makes the best decisions he can given the information available—which is never complete. His longevity stems from the fact that even though he’s not always right, he manages his downside so he has enough of a bankroll left to play the next hand. 

As for the decision on using a cell phone, rather than try to find the answer, I use the same methodology that Doyle uses when playing a poker hand. I start by gathering information. I weigh all those variables using inexact science to make a decision. I don’t go looking for the person who has the answer, since I know that person doesn’t exist. Everyone has a bias and while I trust some more than others, information from any one person or source is only one variable. 

 Here’s a partial list of the information I’ve discovered: 

  1. There is a lot of research showing that cell phone use can cause tumors, brain damage, Alz­heimer’s, DNA damage, and kill sperm.
  2. A cell phone is so convenient that it’s difficult to live without it.
  3. Much of the research claiming cell phones are benign comes from the cell phone industry. In short, there is huge profit motive and massive resources behind convincing folks that cell phones aren’t harmful.
  4. Holding microwaves up to my brain seems like a bad idea.
  5. Cell phones haven’t been around long enough to know the dangers, but those who have been using them the longest have a higher incidence of brain tumors.
  6. The European Environment Agency warned that cell-phone technology “could lead to a health crisis similar to those caused by asbestos, smoking, and lead in petrol.”
  7. By taking precautions, I have little to lose if they turn out to be harmless. If, however, I use indiscriminately, I have everything to lose if they turn out to be toxic.

My belief is that cell phones are dangerous. I can’t quantify to what degree, but I don’t feel like I need to. And while the world seemed to spin before they existed, they do make my life easier. George Orwell might as well have been describing cell phones when he wrote: “Like a drug, the machine is useful, dangerous and habit-forming. The oftener one surrenders to it the tighter its grip becomes.” 

I view the use of a cell phone similar to the decision to drive a car. I know it’s bad for the environment, but I don’t know how bad. The benefits are too great to give it up entirely, but I can minimize the impact by driving less, using publication transportation when possible, and owning a fuel-efficient car. 

When I put all these variables together, it allows me to act decisively. My choice, therefore, is to have a cell phone and use it sparingly, within these parameters.  

  1. I keep it off most of the time.
  2. I text instead of call whenever possible.
  3. I happily pay for a land line so I keep my cell phone calls short.
  4. I never keep it near my groin when it’s turned on.
  5. I use a basic phone rather than an advanced PDA.
  6. I use an EMF (electromagnetic fields) protection device. This certainly could be a racket, but it’s an inexpensive form of insurance.
  7. I use speaker phone when I can and keep it away from my brain.

(Research on both traditional headsets and Bluetooth reveals conflicting stories. Some research shows that it may even be worse. See below for links). 

By sticking to these parameters, I enjoy the convenience of having a cell phone and manage my downside.   

So what’s the secret for being right all the time? 

Sorry to disappoint you, but there isn’t one. The secret to making good decisions is that there’s no secret and there’s no answer key. If, however, you learn to think like a poker player, you’ll be on your way to becoming a shrewd decision-maker. Keep honing that skill like Doyle has and whether it’s poker or another endeavor, you’ll be right often enough to make millions. Just make sure to manage your downside (and your cell phone use) so you can play the next hand. 


My column was inspired by Christopher Ketcham’s article in GQ:  Warning: Your Cell Phone May Be Hazardous to Your Health. I even ripped off the Orwell quote from him. 


From the King Institute Inc. regarding Bluetooth technology: “What few people really understand is that, energetically speaking, a Bluetooth headset is not really much better than keeping the phone receiver to the ear.” 


On the other hand, according to Hello Direct: “Using a Bluetooth headset actually lowers radiation exposure, In addition, having the back side of the phone face away from the body when using a Bluetooth headset further reduces radiation exposure. 


There’s an iPhone case developed by a company called Pong Research. They claim it works by redirecting the radiation coming in and out of the antenna up and away from your headspace. 


5 Responses to A Poker Player’s Approach Regarding the Perils of Cell Phones

  1. […] but since they are so indispensable that I’m not willing to get ride of mine, I offered ways to minimize risk and still have a cell phone. With microwaves, however, I see no reason to keep them. Moreover, when you get rid ot your […]

  2. C. Spencer Beggs says:

    I wouldn’t call this method inexact science as much as I would call it just inexact, Dink. As I see it, the list of partial information you discovered breaks down like this:

    1) You have left this completely uncited so it’s hard to weigh the value of of any of this.

    2) I agree, but this is an observation, not “information”.

    3) An appeal to follow the money on cell phone health studies, which, though sensible, rationally should have no bearing for or against any decision. In fact, this is not “information” at all, more like best practices in doing research. Also, there are plenty of microwaves going through your brain right now — you don’t have to do a thing. The pertinent question is: Are they harmful?

    4) Again, this does not constitute information of any kind. Although I am inlined to agree with your seniment, you have merely stated an opinion and that is not something that belongs on a list of “information” that one would use in a rational, systematic approach to decision making.

    5) This is actually two statements. Taken together, the first belies the second. Taken one at a time, the first contains no information valuable in decision making. The second, when disconnected from the first, similarly contains no information because it only makes an observation that cancer rates are higher today. For example, “Everyone who ate carrots in 1860 died” is a true statement, but shouldn’t be a factor in your farmer’s market shopping list. A statement like “Nearly all mushrooms with a saclike cup at the base of the stem, a ring on the stem, white gills and white spore prints are poisionous” might be.

    6) This is the worst thing you included in your information list. This is a cherry-picked quotation from the EEA’s Interphone study, which actually concluded: “Overall, no increase in risk of glioma or meningioma was observed with use of mobile phones.” The FDA has reached a similar conclusion in its own studies (http://bit.ly/aBshnX). Here’s an article about the misinformation you are repeating: http://n.pr/9pAbBx

    7) This approach reminds me of Pascal’s Wager: One should believe in God because, if God exists believers reap infinite rewards in heaven, and if God doesn’t exist, you really have nothing to lose — except your time, money, well-being, etc. Behaving in a certain way because one merely has “little to lose” is neither rational nor scientific — moreover, it is not the way people actually make other decisions in their lives, and that’s telling.

    Finally, let me address a couple of the sources you do cite here:

    2) cellphone-health.com: A company that sells products that claims to protect you from cell phone radiation? Didn’t you admonish us to follow the money earlier? I will make you a tinfoil hat for free.

    3) A newsletter from the “King Institute”: Again, let’s follow the money. Gee, for people talking about the harmful effects of electro-magnetic energy, they sure talk about Jesus a lot on their Web site. I mean these are people who “believe in the literal interpretation of the whole Word of GOD” and “believe that Jesus Christ will soon come again to judge the world and reign in Righteousness.” I don’t remember anything in the bible about cell phone radiation.

    6) Here’s a CNN story on how that YouTube video of cell phones popping kernels of corn was a hoax: http://bit.ly/2CZPFb It was viral marketing. A quick Google would have found that.

    So, I am all for making educated decisions based on facts and, yes, some personal value judgements, but I think the demonstration you just went through was critically hampered by a lack of sound judgement regarding your source materials. Did you come to a decision? Sure. But I don’t think it demonstrated a honed decision-making process at all.

    Love the blog, so, far, btw. Keep it up.

    • thepokeryogi says:

      Spencer makes some great points. I included many of those links as a way for people to gather information and form their own opinions. If I were touting myself as an “expert” on cell phone use, I would be ashamed of myself for writing this column. I would feel the same way if I was claiming I had all the answers. I do think the column explains how I, with a poker player’s mentality, went through the process of deciding how to use my cell phone and how I “optimize” its use. I love the blog format because people like Spencer can call me out and others can weigh in. I encourage you and others to KEEP CALLING ME OUT!

  3. C. Spencer Beggs says:

    A sign of a good post is that is encourages 600-word responses.

  4. […] I have lists with action items. I might start by pointing at a problem (like microwave ovens or cell phones) but ultimately I’m going to tie it back to what we can do about it. In that spirit, a quick […]

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