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Dig this: Down in Nigeria, a new urban legend is terrifying mobile-phone users. A list of “killer phone numbers” is circulating around — including 0802 311 1999 and 0802 222 5999 — along with the warning that if you answer a call from one of these numbers, you’ll die immediately. The level of panic is now sufficiently high that the local mobile carrier has been forced to issue an official rebuttal, as News24 reports:

“We wish to state categorically that from an engineering point of view, it is absolutely impracticable, and there is no such record whatsoever anywhere in the world, that anyone has died or can die from merely receiving or making a phone call on GSM or any other telecommunications platform.”

Heh. It’s pretty surreal, obviously, but I can understand how rumors like this get started — because when you think about it for a second, mobile phones (and phones in general) are actually an incredibly creepy technology. I mean, you hold this device to your head and a teleported voice from across the world talks to you? What’s up with that? As Erik Davis pointed out in a 1999 article, the history of telecommunications has been shot through with physic supernaturality:

From the moment that human beings started communicating with electrical and electromagnetic signals, the ether has been a spooky place. Four years after Samuel Morse strung up his first telegraph wire in 1844, two young girls in upstate New York kick-started Spiritualism, a massively popular occult religion which attempted to fuse science and seance. One of the movement’s main newspapers was called “The Celestial Telegraph,” and many of the spirits contacted by mediums were electricity geeks. Totally legit scientists like Thomas Edison, the radiographer Sir Oliver Lodge, and Sir William Crookes (inventor of the cathode ray tube you are probably reading this on) all suspected that spirits were real and that the afterlife was electromagnetic in nature. Edison even built a device to communicate directly with the dead.

(Thanks to Techdirt Wireless News for this one!)

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I'm Clive Thompson, the author of Smarter Than You Think: How Technology is Changing Our Minds for the Better (Penguin Press). You can order the book now at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Powells, Indiebound, or through your local bookstore! I'm also a contributing writer for the New York Times Magazine and a columnist for Wired magazine. Email is here or ping me via the antiquated form of AOL IM (pomeranian99).

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