Journal: News & Comment

Sunday, March 24, 2002
# 8:57:00 AM:

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The thumbs have it

Kids who've grown up playing video games and typing instant messages on mobile phone keypads have developed unusual dexterity in their thumbs, researchers in England have discovered. Rather than hunting and pecking with their fingers when dialing numbers, as people like me (who adopted GameBoys and cell phones after puberty) tend to do, those a generation younger have trained themselves to touch-type ambidextrously with both their thumbs. They don't even need to look at what they're doing.

Note, however, that this is not some sort of evolutionary development -- we're not going to see a population of mega-thumbed youngsters take over the world. For that to happen, thumb-typists would have to be better at attracting mates and having more children, who would then type better and have still more children than non-thumb-typists for several generations.

First of all, I doubt that being able to type on a mobile phone is that much of an advantage -- at least for being able to reproduce. Second, phone keypads and GameBoys probably won't still be common several generations down the road. Instead, thumb-typists show that most of us don't take advantage of the abilities our thumbs already have -- just as those who speak several languages show what the brain can learn if we start early enough.

It's not as if the world has been overrun with people who have evolved long, spindly, super-springy fingers to touch-type on traditional keyboards, after all. And we've had over a century for that to happen.


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