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<nettime> biology and technology
Ana Viseu on Wed, 27 Mar 2002 10:03:17 +0100 (CET)


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<nettime> biology and technology


[The Observer 
<http://www.observer.co.uk/uk_news/story/0%2C6903%2C673103%2C00.html>
has an interesting article on how the use of cell phones, gameboys and 
other technological paraphernalia is changing our hands. Apparently, 
youngsters thumbs have become the most muscled and agile digit of many 
members of younger generations. This is an interesting example of the 
mutual adaptation between humans and nonhumans. As McLuhan once said, 
"first we build the tools, then they build us". Ana]

Thumbs are the new fingers for the GameBoy generation

Use of hand-held technologies, such as mobile phones, GameBoys and 
computers, has caused a physical mutation in the under-25s, according to 
new research.

The study, carried out in nine cities around the world, shows that the 
thumbs of the younger generation have overtaken their fingers as the hand's 
most muscled and dexterous digit.

The change affects those who have grown up with hand-held devices capable 
of text messaging, emailing and accessing internet services. Experts claim 
it proves technology is causing physical alterations that previously 
happened over generations.

'The relationship between technology and the users of technology is mutual: 
we are changing each other,' said Dr Sadie Plant, author of the study and 
founder of the Cybernetic Culture Research Unit at Warwick University. 'The 
fact that our thumbs operate differently from our fingers is one of the 
main things that defines us as humans. Discovering that the younger 
generation has taken to using thumbs in a completely different way and are 
instinctively using it where the rest of us use our index fingers is 
particularly interesting.'

Plant, who has written three books on the social impact of technology, 
spent six months collecting data on hundreds of mobile phone users in the 
world's largest cities, including London, Beijing, Chicago and Tokyo.

She noted how, while those less accustomed to mobile phones used one or 
several fingers to access the keypad, younger people used both thumbs 
ambidextrously, barely looking at the keys as they made rapid entries.

'They used the absolute minimal movement,' she said. 'Simply exerting 
pressure with the thumb rather than tapping at the phone.

'There are many ways to input information into these devices, but for some 
reason kids under 25 most often choose to use their thumbs over any other 
digit. There is no question that choice is having a clear effect on their 
physicality: thumbs are the new fingers.'

In Japan, the trend was particularly marked. Plant even found the under-25s 
referred to themselves as oya yubi sedai - the thumb generation, or thumb 
tribe.

As their thumbs become stronger and more dexterous, Plant found that the 
thumb tribe is using its favourite digit for other tasks that are 
traditionally the finger's job, such as pointing at things or ringing 
doorbells.

'The mobile is fast becoming an essential prop in the social life of
20-year-olds,' she said. 'It has even become part of their mating display, 
with young men trying to impress women with the advanced technology of 
their phones.'





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