Haptical Terror: Smooth Digits For Digital Age

Big Head

This article was published in 1965. A huge jawless head carried by a slim emaciated body could be the shape of man by the year 2500…

Big Head1In the 60’s, scientists worried that humans of the future might grow big heads, and not in any metaphorical sense, but quite literally. Voluminous content needs roomy containers. For the brain’s gyri (the ridges), to rise up even higher, and the brain’s silci (crevices) to further deepen, the head of Homo Sapiens must expand.

With all those ridges and crevices unfolded, the today brain would be the size of a pillow. In the future – it might reach, roughly the size of a barn. Or a tool shed. That’s how things stood in the 60’s – scientists predicted away and slightly worried.  Hat makers, perhaps, were secretly designing the future oversize haberdashery.

No worries. Wrong alarm. Statistically, over the decades, only waistlines noticeably expanded. Voluminous content needs roomy containers – XXXL size pants with large pockets became such containers. Large pockets is a must – Homo Sapiens needs to accommodate various gadgets that house our virtual brains, accessed often but useless mostly.

What can we say to that? We expected that scientists might be wrong – scientists often are, but we didn’t expect approximately how wrong they would end up being.

Now, let’s head from the head to the extremities.

Scientists at Newcastle University studied an evolutionary advantage of fingers wrinkling caused by soaking hands in water for a long time. Apparently, the grip on wet objects or objects under water has been shown to improve.

“Going back in time this wrinkling of our fingers in wet conditions could have helped with gathering food from wet vegetation or streams. And as we see the effect in our toes too, this may have been an advantage as it may have meant our ancestors were able to get a better footing in the rain.”

When our hands or feet are in water for a long time, we get wrinkles. Once it was believed that this was the result of water passing into the outer layer of the skin making it swell up, but now it’s known that the formation of these wrinkles is an active process. The distinctive wrinkling is caused by blood vessels constricting below the skin controlled by the autonomic nervous system which controls bodily processes such as breathing, heart rate and perspiration.”

HandsVery well then, our Mesolithic ancestors foraged for food in rivers and rock pools, and evolution helped them to hold on to that pesky slippery trout, not to slip on slimy rocks and let the catch get away.

“This raises the question of why we don’t have permanently wrinkled fingers and we’d like to examine this further. Our initial thoughts are that this could diminish the sensitivity in our fingertips or could increase the risk of damage through catching on objects.”

But of course! You caught a fish and your first thought (Your instinct! Your second nature!) is to get a hold of your smartphone and snap a picture of it, then sent a text to everyone in the universe about your fab achievement, then twit, then Google Fresh water fish of the Nothern Hemosphere for the scientific name of your (by then perhaps already dead) trophy, update your Facebook where you are friend with everyone you know since kindergarten and their friends with this bit of info.

By now — have you noticed? — your fingers no longer resemble flesh-colored prunes. Thankfully, Mother Nature foresaw your social media acumen and unwrinkled your digits to its smooth texture on this sunny afternoon of the Digital Age. You do need smooth, narrow fingers to use what’s in your pocket seems to have more neurons than your average size brain.

Those smooth and narrow digits, and losing touch with the physical world, actually worry people — scientific and near-so.

What was the future for fingers, as tools, in the digital age? Where the latest interface is a touch which is smooth and feather-light, where the human to machine commands are advancing to be spoken, or breathed, or blinked, even transmitted by brain waves, would finger-work be the preserve of artists and childs-play? …But in the digital age would there be pages still to turn, tendrils to be untangled, a place for hard key-strokes, not simply passing swipes? Christine Finn,Archaeologist, Journalist; Author, Artifacts

Another anxious person,  Susan BlackmorePsychologist; Author, Consciousness: An Introduction, is seriously worrying about loosing our digits’ wrinkles in the Digital Age:

Our hands now spend little time making or growing things and a lot of time pressing keys and touching screens… Our evolved desires for fun, competition, and communication lead us into ever vaster realms of online information and away from the people right next to us. And who are ‘we’? Our selves, too, are changing as they disconnect from our bodies, becoming as much the person who exists on multiple websites and forums as the physical body who acts and interacts right here and now—as much a digitally propagated entity as the man now holding my hand in his.

My question is, indeed, And who are ‘we’? And how many “we”s of this world should be really-really-really concerned about their fingers going all smooth, narrow and unable to form churches and steeples, or peel an orange, as Ms. Blackmore worries.

My personal worry is this: Now, and  even more so in the future, the world seem to need more and more of everything — gadgets notwithstanding. How many wrinkled hands it takes now, and would be needed in the future, to put those gadgets together and deposit them into the hands of those with smooth digits, who worry about loosing touch with the physical world?

This sentence seemed to have written itself, and didn’t do a very good job at it. Ah, well…

Future01

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