Thumbs | an essay on technology and purpose

Thumbs are important to humans. Sorry, let me try that sentence again: opposable thumbs are very important to anyone lucky enough to have them, especially humans.

Just think about everything our species has accomplished throughout history, how many of those things would have been possible if we couldn’t hold onto things with our hands?

Even the word “opposable” has value in our culture, especially with two distinct groups; a) 16-20 year olds looking to impress others by using a “big word” they assume will make them sound smart and b) writers of animated films of the talking-animal variety looking for an easy laugh.

In recent years, smartphones have given thumbs an important new purpose; typing, an activity previously reserved for the other 8 fingers. [1]

Think about this for a second: the only role your thumbs play while typing on a keyboard is to press the spacebar. Just the spacebar. And although it would take a little getting used to, there’s a good chance your index fingers could handle the task if you somehow lost both thumbs.

Today, thanks to iPads and other tablets, fingers again play a prominent role in the production of words, even when using a computer isn’t an option.

I was convinced I didn’t want an iPad because it seemed like a device that simply filled the narrow technology gap between my MacBook and iPhone. I finally took the bite earlier this month when Apple announced the new iPad, with it’s stunning new display and a few other bells and whistles I still can’t explain. Now I have the whole family. I enjoy it, but it’s just a toy.

As much as I “love” technology I have come to realize that ultimately, no gadget can help me live a more fulfilling life. Sure, the newest Apple product will always make communicating with friends and family more convenient and entertaining [2] but the telephone has been around since the turn of the century and systems for communicating by text have been in place since long before email and other forms of electronic messaging were created.

If mobile phones, email and (dare I say it) the internet had never come into existence, we would still be okay. Daily life would be a lot different but the basic realities of what it means to be a human in relation to other humans and the rest of the created world would all pretty much be the same.

We would still need to eat, sleep, drink water and go to the bathroom. We would want to spend time with – and find ourselves attracted to – some people more than others, and no matter how hard we tried to fight it, we would occasionally have to “work” so we could provide for our own basic needs and possibly the needs of others as well. And, we would all still try to make meaning of things, even if we didn’t talk about it with anyone else.

Despite all that we have in common, various groups of people throughout history have too often been treated like thumbs. Constrained into an existence of being undervalued and forgotten, cast aside and overlooked, yet possessing great gifts and abilities if only they were given a chance to share them and fully be themselves.

Sadly, still today many people have experienced the debilitating affects of discrimination because of something as simple as their race, gender or sexual orientation. [3]

If for any reason you have allowed yourself to become like a thumb, falling for the lie that you don’t have anything to offer or perhaps convincing yourself there aren’t enough opportunities for you to contribute something of importance in the world, here is the good and challenging news…you aren’t a finger at all.

You’re a unique individual, created by God and possessing wonderful gifts to be shared with the world, and share them you must because cheesy as this may sound, the only chance the world has of reaching the full potential of beauty God created it to have is if you share your uniqueness. Please don’t deprive the world of your special blend of beauty.


[1] or is it just “fingers”? (I still don’t know if we have 10 fingers or 8 fingers and 2 thumbs.)

[2] Like when talking to my mom, a recent convert to Apple products, and I struggled my way through an explanation on how to use the FaceTime app so I could see what she was seeing on the screen of her MacBook Air to help her change some of the settings…that was a funny and frustrating conversation!

[3] This is a shame, and there’s a specific finger you may feel like using to show these people how you feel about their intolerance, but don’t do it, not even if you wrongly assumed I was talking about your thumb and had begun considering the possibilities of something good coming from a thumb-wrestling session with some close-minded haters.

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One thought on “Thumbs | an essay on technology and purpose

  1. As I began reading, I had no idea that I would feel so inspired at the end! See, I told you that you should write more.

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