William M. Briggs

Statistician to the Stars!

Consider The Hand — Guest Post by the Blonde Blombshell

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Editor’s note As I prepare for class this weekend, I have some guest posts and reader’s questions prepared for us.

The poor hands of the modern person are becoming nothing more than useless stubs. While not everyone spends their spare time chiseling a statue, painting portraits, or building houses, it is, in theory, possible to make dinner, write a letter, and shuffle a deck of cards. Alas, even something as simple as unlocking a door is becoming too much trouble for the modern human. In fact, humans spend so many hours a day cradling a phone in their hands that doctors have observed that there is a tendency in some people to develop an oversized thumb.

There was once vanity, but it was of a different sort. There is a fairytale popularized by the Brothers Grimm about a girl who hated to spin so much that her mother was fed up and beat her. A passing queen heard the cries and inquired as to the problem. To save face, the mother told the queen that she was too poor to keep her daughter in enough flax to satisfy her need to spin. The queen took her away and as a reward, showed the girl rooms full of flax so she could spin to her heart’s content.

The girl was saved by three women who said they would help if they could be invited to the wedding of the girl and the queen’s son, to whom she would be betrothed after her success at spinning (of course). It ends well, the flax is spun and the three women were invited to the wedding—one had a large foot, another a large lip, and the last, a large thumb. The prince asked about this, and they admitted that their deformities were the result of treadling the wheel, licking the thread, and twisting the thread. The prince vowed that his bride would never touch a spinning wheel, lest the same misfortune befall her.

In an updated version, the oversized thumb would be a thing of beauty and correlated to one’s likes on social media.

Parents and teachers in the not-too-distant past were concerned that their wards would develop the manual dexterity needed for legible penmanship. Putting words on paper was not an end in itself, but it was also a way to create and strengthen the connections in the brain that made learning possible. While a child wouldn’t be able to say that they were developing their fine motor skills, they could thread a needle, wind a ball of yarn, and play cat’s cradle.

Along came the PC and then there was widespread anxiety that the children would be unemployable if they could not put numbers into a spreadsheet. Penmanship and even block printing became secondary, and children no longer had the opportunity to use writing as a truly mental exercise. Handwriting is coming back, a little bit, revived by those who have recognized what has been lost. But what has been lost will not be recovered in its entirety, and a generation has been lost to the computer.

Someone told me that if we let the little tasks fall by the wayside, that our giant brains will be used for greater things and thinking bigger thoughts. It is a pleasurable to ruminate on the possibilities, of course, but I have a hard time believing that the great things of the future were put on hold because we were too busy chopping vegetables or fishing for a key ring in a briefcase.

11 Comments

  1. This is not accidental. People who completely lack skills are dependent on the government. Information stored as zeros and ones can be changed at will and internet-wide (especially if one does not know there is a wayback machine or if the author of the article blocked the machine). People who have nothing concrete to do are not headed for better things. They are sheep on their way to becoming lamb chops.

    I feel for children born now—if we follow our current route, there will be no qualified surgeons (only those that make you feel good and laugh), no builders, nothing. Three generations will be living in Mom’s basement because they have no skills. This, of course, will require immigrants to cover (assuming they’ll work—which so far as failed in Germany. They just burn things down.) and Americans will become the “pets” of these immigrants, dependent on them for food and housing. I can’t really see increased intellectual pursuit anywhere in any of this.

  2. As a father, I can say that the gifts that I’ve treasured most over the years are the ones my children hand made for me. Store-bought gifts and cards fade quickly, but the hand-made can bring back many fond memories years later. I need to make time for instilling in my grandsons the value of working with their hands.

  3. A year or so ago I was helping my daughter and her co-workers at the county District Attorney’s office make a silly video for secretary’s day. She had 43 cards with the names of all the court reporters on them and needed to distribute them into eight piles. She, a recent graduate from a four-year university, and one of her co-workers were trying to figure out how many cards needed to go into each pile. After about ten seconds of scratching their heads — which felt to me like an eternity — I finally said, five each, with three left over. They both looked at me like I was some kind of freak. My daughter made some comment to her co-worker along the lines of “Only an engineer…”

    This is what results when the public schools force students to use calculators to do arithmetic. Kids no longer learn multiplication, addition, division, subtraction tables. They don’t have any sense of what numbers mean and how they relate to each other, which makes it easy to fool them into thinking that everyone can get free stuff.

  4. Should a person decide to drop out, those oversized thumbs are useful for hithhiking. Do vagabonds use social media?

  5. Doug M: I’ve read that homeless people have computers and use public wifi. This is supposedly to keep them in touch with families and to find a job. I doubt either is accomplished on a regular basis.

  6. Sheri, not every homeless person sleeps on the street. There is a subset that sleeps every night with a roof over their heads but no fixed address. The have jobs and friends and cars. They just don’t have a house or apartment to call their own.

  7. Doug: My brother lives in his car. The people referenced in the article did live on the street and had computers (laptops).

  8. I love the way you cons glow over a past that simply never was at all. Americans have never been the greatest students. The public school system, the one you guys blame for everything, uplifted millions, advanced America to First World status. Even then, it wasn’t enough. The GI Bill, as well as public-private education originally tied to the war, played a major role in our super-modernization after WWII. Before that, we had such a deficit of original thought in American academia, we had to actively import intellectual talent, mostly from Europe. Americans were great at pragmatism, efficiency, that think-from-the-gut Americaness the rest of the world laughs at but also spend trillions emulating and enjoying. Academic prowess was never an American strong-point.

    If you want a better anything in America, you have to spend money. That’s the way it all works, no matter what stupid people who believe we are on the verge of communism say. Want a better educated public? Put money in education. Don’t want to do that? Well, you’re stupid.

    JMJ

  9. If you want a better anything in America, you have to spend money. That’s the way it all works, no matter what stupid people who believe we are on the verge of communism say. Want a better educated public? Put money in education. Don’t want to do that? Well, you’re stupid.
    JMJ
    Yair, Jersey. I’m stupid and I haven’t the slightest intention of ever being otherwise.

    You see, your definition of “stupid” is exactly the same as Communist Russia’s definition of an “enemy of the people”; that is anyone who does not conform to establishment ideology.

    “Better educated” = mindless state sycophant. Good and true is whatever the ideology says it is today.

  10. JMJ: Of course American students were never the greatest—the government was in charge. Interesting that money CAUSES intelligence to go up. I never would have made the connection. Seriously, the US spends more per capita than most countries yet with the progressive drivel taught, does very poorly in school. More money is not producing better students, just more bureaucrats and freeloaders. If you believe money CAUSES intelligence, well, then, you’re stupid. (Obviously, it doesn’t faciliatate intelligence either, or the US would be doing much better.)

    All: Actually, what is being practiced in the USA is not communism per se, but rather totalitarianism, where the government demands you believe the lie. This is seen in the rediculous sex attitudes of the government, etc. The USA is becoming totalitarian. There is no place for good schools or creative thinking—just people who will do as they are told.

  11. JMJ: If the education system is so wonderful today, why can’t our sixth graders read and understand the texts they taught in 1910? (For that matter, why can’t our *teachers* understand the texts they taught in 1910?)

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