Silicon Valley isn’t the best place to be hypersensitive to electromagnetic fields.
Peter Sullivan and I are driving around Palo Alto, California, in his black Tesla Roadster when the clicking begins. The $2,500 German-made instrument resting in my lap is picking up electromagnetic fields (EMFs) from a nearby cell tower. As we follow a procession of BMWs and Priuses into the parking lot of Henry M. Gunn High School, the clicking crescendos into a roar of static. “I can feel it right here,” Sullivan says, wincing as he massages his forehead. The last time he visited the tower, he tells me, it took him three days to recover.
Sullivan is among the estimated 3 percent of people in California who claim they are highly sensitive to EMFs, the electromagnetic radiation emitted by wireless routers, cellphones, and countless other modern accouterments. Electromagnetic hypersensitivity syndrome—famously suffered by the brother of Jimmie McGill, the lead character on AMC’s Better Call Saul—is not a formally recognized medical condition in most countries and it has little basis in mainstream science. Dozens of peer-reviewed studies have essentially concluded that the problem is in peoples’ heads.