by Neil Bauman, Ph.D.
A warning recently circulated around some of the Cochlear Implant (CI) lists that read:
Attention Cochlear Implant users—you should never use the flashlight that never needs batteries, just shake it. Also, it never needs bulbs, is waterproof and floats in water. Single/double super coils create the charge with every shake. The problem is that there is a magnet in it that can erase the maps from a cochlear implant or corrupt computer hard drives. Please pass the word, better to be safe than sorry.
So often the “warnings” that you receive via email are just not true. Someone “thinks” something could happen and warns everyone else—all without a shred of evidence that there is any real problem. This is what has happened in this case. (In addition, there are the many malicious emails whose only purpose is to deliberately scare you silly, but this isn’t one of them.)
So what is the truth about these batteryless flashlights? Are they really capable of wiping out the programs in CIs and corrupting hard drives? I decided to find out.
You see, I have one of these very flashlights sitting on my desk where it has been for a number of months without causing any harm to my computer. I decided to try and see if it could deliberately wipe out data on a floppy disk. I put some files on a floppy disc, then held the disk as close to the magnet in the flashlight as possible for a minute and then tested it in my computer. Still good. Then I held it against the flashlight and shook the flashlight for a couple of minutes and tried it again. Still good.
Note: since the magnet is in the center of the flashlight handle, the closest it can come to any disc or CI is just over half an inch. Also, note that the CI has a magnet of its own to hold it on your head, and this magnet has not been implicated in wiping out CI programs.
Based on my brief tests, I can see no problem with using this flashlight for casual use, even if you have a CI. Now if you taped the processor to the flashlight as close as you can get to the magnet and left it there for a couple of months, who knows what might happen–but is anyone ever going to do that in real life?
As for the hard drives on your computer, you couldn’t get the flashlight as close to them as I did to the floppy and no harm came to the floppy. Thus, I think this flashlight is perfectly safe in normal use.
Notice that according to this article, this flashlight never has actually wiped out CI programs. The author was just warning it could happen. And that might be true—that it could happen, although from my testing, the chances are very remote—you’d have to deliberately try to make it happen, and even then, there are no guarantees you could ever make it happen.
This “warning” is similar to the warning a doctor gave to a hard of hearing customer of mine (and patient of his) who had a heart pacemaker. He told this person that he couldn’t use a PockeTalker to help him hear better as it could interfere with his pacemaker and kill him, but didn’t say anything about carrying a small radio, iPod or DVD player that use basically the same electronics and thus would be just as “dangerous.”
I’ll bet the doctor didn’t even know what a PockeTalker was. Besides, there are no known occurrences of this ever happening. This pseudo-professional warning was just harming the patient who needed an assistive listening device (ALD) in order to hear better. Therefore, just because some of the stuff floating around the Internet seems to come from an authoritative source doesn’t make it true. Take these warnings with a grain of salt until you see them proven to be true.