Is Tech Lefthandist? — Red Herring

Today is International Lefthanders Day. Left-handed people of old never had such a celebration. Just centuries previously, should you have picked up a pen (or quill) with your left hand, you might have been denounced as a witch. “The Devil himself was considered a southpaw, and he and other evil spirits were always conjured up by left-handed gestures,” wrote a 1969 TIME magazine journalist. The Bible gives no fewer than 25 unfavorable references to the left hand.

Indeed, the very word ‘sinister’ comes from the Latin word meaning, simply, ‘left’. Even a couple of generations before now, schools across the world made left-handers write with their right hand, leftie tied behind their back. The struggle was real.

But while today’s southpaws–or cack-handers, maladroits or ham-fisters–might not face a Salem-style trial for preferring their left hand, bias against left-handers–let’s call it lefthandism–is still a common thing in design, despite the fact around 12% of the world’s population, or around 800 million people, are left-handers.

Tech is no stranger to lefthandism. Samsung’s Galaxy S8 recently wrangled a few lefty nerves for the placement of its fingerprint scanner. The Korean company has history: “When the first Samsung Galaxy phone with a curved edge display came out, the company completely disregarded how left-handers could use the device,” writes The Verge’s Natt Garun.

It’s far from alone. Scissors and writing are probably the most infamous examples of lefthandism in design. But Kindles, Handycams, games console controllers, mouses and other modern contraptions are evidence that when it comes to ergonomics, tech designers can often give less than a pixel how their device will work for lefties.

One outlier is the QWERTY keyboard, devised in the 1870s by Pennsylvania-born inventor and newspaper editor Christopher Latham Sholes. The layout means that the English language’s most common letters are on the left side, making right-handers use their weaker side most of the time (take a moment to relish your small victory, southpaws).

Despite a 1936 attempt to rectify this for righties by psychologist August Dvorak, Latham Sholes’ keyboard has more or less survived the digital revolution intact: quite the feat for a comparatively ancient invention.

It’s not the only advantage for left-handers. Lefties are dominant on the right side of their brain, which controls creativity and 3D perception. It’s why so many artists, writers, architects and musicians are left-handed. Among history’s most illustrious cack-handers are Aristotle, Julius Caesar, Leonardo Da Vinci, Marilyn Monroe, Tom Cruise, Lewis Carroll, Matt Groening (and Bart Simpson), Spike Lee, Jimi Hendrix, Sir Paul McCartney, Babe Ruth and Pele.

Bill Gates is also left-handed–which makes Microsoft’s Mouse 2.0, which garnered significant lefthandist criticism when it was launched in 1983, all the more surprising. And despite the many…

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