2005-11-03 / Sam Bari

You can’t beat a system you can’t understand

The evolution of thumbs
By Sam Bari

You can’t beat a system you can’t understand

Recently, I read a CBS News story on the Internet that concerns a troubling medical condition called Blackberry Thumb. This musculoskeletal disorder is recognized as a repetitive motion injury and it needs to be addressed before it reaches epidemic proportion.

As I understand it, the syndrome is caused by spending too much time repeatedly pressing the buttons on the thumb-activated keypads found on the latest wave of handheld, wireless communication devices. The symptoms include numbness and varying degrees of pain in the thumbs and surrounding area that is not unlike that experienced by victims of carpal tunnel syndrome.

Blackberry was the brand name of the first of a new breed of ultra-small, portable multi-tasking communication gadgets to hit the marketplace. Although many competitive products are now available, Blackberry was the innovator, and consequently enjoys status as the catchall name for this category of digital technology. Unfortunately, the name is also synonymous with the disease.

The palm-sized hardware we’re talking about are sophisticated combination videophone, computer, music player, and game stations that are capable of sending and receiving e-mail, voicemail, and instant messages. They can also store, play, upload and download videos, movies, and digital photography, as well as access your home computer, calculate, and keep you organized. Pretty cool, huh? Well . . . maybe not.

Before some slick, gizmo-oriented sales geek sells you one of these miniature wonders of cellpowered wizardry, you’d do well to think it through. As fabulous as they may appear, these little powerhouses have that serious drawback of being most efficiently operated with your thumbs, and that can be a problem.

For a change of pace, instead of spending hours sitting in front of a humongous computer monitor damaging your carpal tunnels and enlarging your backside, you can now squint into a miniscule screen on a portable gadget and wreak havoc on your thumbs. Either way, your backside will continue to grow.

As an extra-added attraction that will incur absolutely no additional cost — this breakthrough in modern technology also affords you the opportunity to be the first on your block to totally ruin your eyes.

Now, just when you think the deal could not possibly get any better — consider this: by purchasing this little marvel of idiomatic ingenuity, you could seriously affect evolution . . . Ahha! Got your attention, did we?

Hmmm . . . stop and think about it. Yes, you — insignificant little creature that you might be in the grand scheme of things — could actually influence the future, the evolution of humankind.

By spending hours every day speedily pressing the teensy buttons on the mini-connection to your useless virtual life, in just a few short weeks your thumbs will make the biceps on the average NFL defensive lineman look like they belong to the Pillsbury dough boy. Meanwhile, the rest of your body will turn into gelatinous globs of pulsating flab, except, of course, your backside, which will develop the amorphous contours of a six-way adjustable recliner.

In less than four generations, your offspring could evolve into creatures with hands that are little more than two heavily muscled, pointed thumbs attached to pink, lifeless palms. This future version of humanity will likely have bulbous eyes, necessary for viewing postage-stamp-sized computer displays. Twenty-third century anthropologists will think their ancestors crossbred with giant flies.

Obviously, excessive use of handheld computer-based gadgetry could dramatically change the evolutionary process. After three lifetimes of shopping, ordering food, entertainment, and clothing on handheld computers that fulfill every possible need, movement and exercise will be close to non-existent. The sedentary lifestyle will be continually redefined by developments in high technology. The possibilities are alarming.

This degenerative way of living will achieve culmination when feet are reduced to the status of ornamental appendages. Since they will rarely be used, within five generations they could diminish in size to look as though they belonged on the ageless Gerber baby, a hideous creature at best.

I suppose the lesson to be gleaned from this foreboding forecast is that blackberries should be eaten, not poked. Well . . . that’s probably true, isn’t it? Anyway, it’s more than likely just part of that system we don’t understand.

Donna Drago and Alice Dunn inspired and contributed to the concept of this column.

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