A triumph of thumbs

Thumbnail image for al-martinez-photo.jpgUp until the current generation and the dawning of the Digital Age, the thumb has played a very small part in our climb up the evolutionary ladder. Its use has been limited, more or less, to the current practice of hitching rides and to the historical application of poking into the eyes of heretics during the Spanish Inquisition.

But things have changed.

The New Day of the Thumb, as it were, was called to my attention by my grandson Jeff when I asked recently if he had seen my car keys, which I am continually misplacing. He said, "Sure, they're over there" and pointed, but not in the usual manner of employing his right index finger but indicating the direction with his right thumb.

"You mean over there?" I said, utilizing the traditional index finger, and he said, "No, over there," with his thumb.

Intrigued by his thumbing, I began to observe him more closely, the way Darwin must have studied the responsive movements of snail darters and mealy bugs. I noticed the thumb's dominance in the way Jeff typed names and addresses into his cell phone for text messaging, using his left thumb on one side of the tiny keyboard and the right thumb on the other side.

I sensed something, well, historic here, possibly comparable to the moment a small animal half fish and half, oh, lizard crawled from a primeval swamp in the dawn of time onto solid ground and thereby made his home on land, a practice not dissimilar from the Okies who came to California during World War 2 to work in the shipyards.

I guess I could have shouted "Eureka!" but it's the name of a small town today and lacks the triumphant powers of discovery that it once possessed. What I determined as I expanded my study of the thumb was that I was in on the beginning of an important physiological change.

In the coming eons, the human thumb would grow in size and dexterity to dominate the hand; all other fingers would shrink in size from lack of use and eventually either become vestigial, that is to say useless, or disappear completely, except for possibly the forefinger which is valuable in combination with the thumb for clasping purposes.

Just as the monkeys lost their tails when they achieved the status of homo sapiens, we would lose most of our fingers as we adapted to the era largely created by Bill Gates and Steve Jobs.

We are on our way to becoming two-fingered creatures, radically altering cultural traits that involve mathematics or parlor games, and even the gestured insult that included the traditional middle finger. Giving someone the thumb just isn't the same.

This will be in the science books someday, so remember you read it here first. The thumb might become so popular that someday we might even grow another. The crowds will shout "Nice going, Martinez," and give me the ultimate sign of approval: Three thumbs up.


More by Al Martinez:
A triumph of thumbs
In the autumn of my books
The damndest cold man ever caught
Trees, Fire and War in (the) Topanga
Korea: Memories of a distant thunder
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