Your smartphone can do a lot of amazing things. It can call people. It can connect to the Internet. It can enable you to play fun games. It can also attract an ungodly amount of life-threatening germs.
At face value, this is a really obvious observation. Your phone touches a lot of stuff, including your hands and the inside of your pocket or purse, both of which are inevitably dirty places. But it's not until you get down into the gritty details that it gets really revolting. The Wall Street Journal did just that with a new investigation into just how dirty our pocket computers can get. They tested eight "randomly selected phones" for traces of various kinds of bacteria and then published their findings on Monday night. There's good news and there's bad news:
The phones showed no signs of E. coli or staphylococci bacteria. But all phones showed abnormally high numbers of coliforms, a bacteria indicating fecal contamination. Of the eight phones tested by HML Labs of Muncie, Ind., there were between about 2,700 and 4,200 units of coliform bacteria. In drinking water, the limit is less than 1 unit per 100 ml of water.
That's right. Your smartphone is covered in microscopic pieces of poop. What's worse is that the phone picks up those tiny bits of excrement from other things you're putting in your hands or against your face. (You almost forgot that you put your phone on your face, didn't you?) What's even worse than that, though, is that doctors say it's a health hazard. People are just as likely to get sick from their phones as from handles of the bathroom," a doctor from the American Academy of Family Physicians told The Journal. "These are the unintended consequences of new technology that we haven't seen before so we don't know all the risks yet."
Hypochondriacs, feel free to freak out about this. Even the cleaning cloths that promise 99 percent efficacy aren't quite enough to ward off the most resilient bacteria. One iPhone user even suggested that her family's devices spread pinkeye around the house, despite their obsessive use of Windex.
Then again, life's not much fun if you wander around feeling anxious about how dirty everything is. There's all kinds of stuff on the things we touch and the air we breathe, including narcotics, apparently. But just imagine how carefree you could be if you just forgot about all that nonsense -- like the New York City teenager that licked an entire subway railing for a bet. If you use that kid as a role model, you could be carefree and a dollar richer.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.