I’ll get right to the point…I’m pretty much a Grade-A badass. I live for danger. Most thrill-seekers live on the edge by engaging in dangerous hobbies like drag racing or base jumping. These are too tame for me, so I decided to go extreme. I bought an electric fan!
Korea is full of cultural quirks, but the one that intrigues me most is the widely held belief that electric fans are potentially lethal. The idea is that if you sleep in a room with poor ventilation (windows and doors closed) and leave a fan running directly over your body, you may die.
At first I thought Korean Fan Death (yes, it has a name) was an old superstition that only existed among people who grew up in the pre-war Korea. To my surprise, this misconception doesn’t seem to have lost any steam since South Korea became one of the world’s most technologically advanced nations. Many of my university-educated, intelligent friends have no doubt that fans pose serious risks to users. In fact, many Koreans even refuse to use air conditioning without first opening a window.
I’ve spoken to several dozen Koreans about Fan Death. Any time I’m able to squeeze the subject into a conversation with a believer, I ask them to explain how Fan Death works. Nearly all of the explanations fit into of three categories:
- Hypothermia: The wind from the fan blows (cool) air across your body, causing sweat to evaporate more quickly than in stagnant air. This rapid evaporation cools the body until hypothermia sets in, freezing the victim to death.
- Low Pressure: The fast-moving wind from a fan pointed at the victim’s face creates a low-pressure system (Bernoulli’s Principle) that makes it difficult to breathe or simply sucks the oxygen out of their lungs.
- Super-Sharp Blades: The blades from the fan, when moving at high speeds, chop the air molecules and render them unusable by the lungs. This can either simply destroy the molecules or (worse yet) create carbon dioxide or carbon monoxide.
These fears are so deeply ingrained in Korean society for many reasons, not the least of which is that the government and media have helped spread the myth. Each summer, there are several news reports claiming that people died from using fans, despite a total lack of scientific or medical evidence. The Korean Consumer Protection Board has released multiple warnings about the dangers of electric fans in summertime. Fans are first on their list of the Top 5 Recurring Summertime Accidents.
South Korea’s largest fan manufacturer, Shinil Industrial Company, still attaches the following warning to all of its electric fans: “This product may cause suffocation or hypothermia.” It is nearly impossible to find a fan that isn’t equipped with an oscillation option and a timer.
In recent years, there have been many attempts to prove that Fan Death is real. Some claim that electric fans in an enclosed room can create a convection effect that overheats the body, leading to dehydration. This explanation is significantly less silly than the others, but I’m still not convinced. What are your thoughts?
Until next time.