Thursday, April 23, 2009

Video Games, Cell Phones are creating 'Uber Thumbs'

I think it’s true, Generation Y is all thumbs. But this isn't necessarily as bad as the turn of phrase might have you believe. Since I was a boy, I’ve been surrounded by devices and gizmos that I’ve operated primarily with my thumbs. Think back to your first GameBoy. Remember that big, clunky grey box with a yellowish screen that featured a 12 pixel version of the iconic plumber and his lanky Italian sidekick? I’d sit on the couch, or in bed late at night with a flashlight under the covers, trying for the life of me to pass that level with the giant Easter Island heads until my thumbs were aching and sore. It seems though, that for all of us who are accustomed to navigating our childhood on a d-pad, this time spent thumbing our way through level after level has prepared us perfectly for a world replete with new tech toys and gadgets that require such opposable dexterity.
Cell phones and smart phones are the new GameBoys of the 21st century, and their proliferation into the mainstream market across all age cohorts has provided us with a more level playing field on which to judge people’s abilities. Ask your self this, what level can you get to in brick breaker on the Blackberry. Come on, you know you’ve tried your best at least once. Now ask your parents the same question. I can pretty much guarantee that you will have achieved a higher score than them, even though they’ve been using a Blackberry for just as long a time as you. Now if you went back to when you were doing your Mario thing, and you asked your parents to try and beat a level, I’m sure they would have had trouble understanding how to hold a shell while running and jumping at the same time. It just goes to show you that though our parents are using their thumbs more often thanks to cell phones and Blackberrys, they still can’t hold a candle to the years of conditioning we’ve been through.
In an article from The Observer, a Guardian News and Media paper, columnist Amelia Hill writes about how cell phones and video games have caused a kind of “physical mutation” in people under the age of 25. Research from Asia shows that people under 25 have developed thumbs that are much more powerful and dexterous compared to their other fingers. As technology is designed with our thumbs in mind, and we use our thumbs more and more to interact with the world through these technologies, our thumbs grow stronger and increasingly predominant as our most useful digits.

I wonder, if in another century of thumbing our way through life, will we have completely different looking hands? Will society start using thumbs for more things? Will giving someone the ‘thumbs up’ be the ultimate act of affection? Well, probably not, but I do wonder about the future of the industries that have led us down this path of thumb supremacy. The video game, mobile phone and computer companies that design the tools and toys we use every day will likely be the largest influences, not to mention benefactors, of a thumb-centric society. It will be interesting to see if they keep these sorts of designs going, or if they switch to more finger-oriented interfaces.
Regardless of the future however, it’s interesting to note the changes that have already taken place in our physiology. Remember, the next time you challenge your parents to a thumb wrestle, make sure you put some money down. The odds are stacked in your favour!

As a note, if you find yourself stricken with the dreaded ‘Blackberry Thumb’, here are some stretches you can do to help alleviate the pain and get you back to work… or brick breaker.

Thumbs up man.


Thursday, April 2, 2009

To Tweet or not to Tweet?

According to me, and a great deal of other Gen Y'ers out there, that is the question. I bet if you asked Shakespeare, he would say “tweeteth away”. After all, it’s another incredible source of romantic tragedy for him to interpret and dramatize. However, if you were to ask many girlfriends, boyfriends or spouses, they might have a different answer for you.
Twitter has been receiving a lot of press recently, and the media seems to be right on-time once again with their usual 1-2 year lag behind the integration and proliferation of a social medium into main stream culture. With the increasing coverage in newspapers, online, and on television comes an even more rapid ascent to top of mind status for people who would likely never have even heard of such a thing. In my own experience, twitter’s popularity has sparked a number of issues that stem mostly from the fact that every tweet I make reveals a little more of me to the rest of the world (or so it’s been said). In some cases this is true. When I post things like, “Great time at the Horseshoe Tavern last night”, ‘the world’ (or portion there-of who have chosen to follow my updates) gets a glimpse into what I’ve been up to. Most of the time however, this is not what I use twitter for. For the most part, I post interesting sites, thoughts about current events, and the titles and links to my new blog posts. For some, this is seen as a great way to let friends and interested parties know what cool stuff (or not so cool stuff) you’ve been up to. For others, it’s seen as a narcissistic vocalization of one’s own inner monologue that is best left unsaid and unshared with strangers and potential stalkers. Clearly, two distinct ends of the spectrum, but I’d say that most people’s opinions would be situated somewhere between the two.

Twitter, unlike Facebook, limits posts to 140 characters and doesn’t provide users with any other means to connect like adding videos or images. Because of this, twitter is very much a ‘take it or leave it’ medium, and one that innately imposes a necessity to be succinct. I think this does a number of things for the platform. For one, it means people aren’t telling their life stories on twitter; it’s all about the here and now (relatively speaking). It’s very interesting though how so many people, right from twitter’s beginning, saw the short, punchy, easy to do style of updates as an excuse to write about not just anything, but EVERYTHING they’re doing. The simple style combined with the ambiguous “What are you doing?” call to action preceding everyone’s text box, has led some users to shout nonsense pointlessly into the ether. Nonsense like, “I’m tweeting on twitter”. For people such as that, I have no reservation about unleashing the critics (twiticks?) on them. But for those of us who choose to use twitter as a means of access to relevant (because you choose who you follow) yet wildly arbitrary information, I must protest the dissenting voices.
Sure people can abuse twitter, and no doubt people do every day. But just as Facebook was new and scary for many in the beginning, twitter’s new kid on the block image will fade, and eventually settle into a state of ubiquity and commonality; just another social medium that few will even bother to contest.
If you’d like, hop on twitter and follow me @taysharpe. I can’t claim to be the most interesting, but I’ll do my best to post only those things that I find worthy of sharing. As of this post, gone are the days of shout-outs to inanimate objects and rants about telecom giants (though I’ll miss those).
For any critic of twitter out there, all I can say is try it before you knock it. If you’re one of those worried significant others, here’s an interesting article from The Globe and Mail that speaks to this notion of being e-jealous.

Tell me what you think about twits, tweets and twitter by posting a comment.