charlie's blog

Monday, January 19, 2009

the view from the left

We live in a right-handed world. Most people don't notice it, particularly you righties, but it's the truth: our world favors the right side. And realistically, that's probably how things should be, since the majority of people are right-handed. Wikipedia puts the estimate at 90-93%, or only 7-10% lefties. Still, I was interested (and proud) to read that Barack Obama is a fellow southpaw, as were four of the last six presidents.

Today I thought it would be interesting to take stock of just how many things give preference to the right hand. This partial list was compiled over the last month, and while I don't claim that any of these were deliberately designed to favor righties, I also don't claim that they weren't.

Cameras: Almost all of the interesting controls are on the right.

Can openers: Hold 'em with the left, crank 'em with the right.

Cars: In the US, almost all of the controls are on the right side. Could you righties shift with your left hand? Brits, don't answer that.

Computer mice: Many can be used by either hand, but they're usually on the right side and (by default) expect to be clicked with the right index finger. Some can't even be used by the left hand without extreme awkwardness.

Corkscrews and screwdrivers: Usable by either hand, but you can get a lot more leverage in the tightening direction if you use them right-handed.

Iced tea makers: With mine, the pitcher goes on the right, to be picked up by the right hand. My left hand gets to hit the button, though, so maybe it's a wash.

Microwaves and toaster ovens: Controls are almost always on the right side.

Toilets: I can't speak for other countries, but in America, the majority of toilets have the flush handle on the left (as you're facing the thing). That's because the right hand is too good for such distasteful work. In fact, in some countries it's actually a horrible insult to offer your left hand to someone, because it's assumed that you use that hand for wiping.

Scissors: Try using a fancy pair of sewing scissors with your left hand. It doesn't work. Interestingly, I seem to have learned to cut right-handed very early on, and never ended up needing the left-handed scissors my parents always bought me.

Sewing machines: Speaking of sewing, all of the interesting sewing machine controls are on the right, too.

Watches: Wound by the right hand, unless you wear yours on the right wrist, in which case you probably have to take it off to wind it.

Wedding rings: In the US and some other countries, wedding rings are worn on the left hand. As a lefty, I find it frustrating to have a chunk of metal on my dominant hand - it's far too easy to accidentally scratch things.

The English language (and lots of others): Boy, there's a lot to say here. First of all, try writing an essay in pencil with your left hand. Don't spend all afternoon, just fill one page. Then take a look at the outside edge of your hand. Your skin should now have a nice silvery coating of graphite, and you're going to leave smudges until you wash your hands. It's gross. Also, if you happened to choose a spiral notebook for your experiment, did you notice how incredibly uncomfortable it was to have your hand mashed against the spirals? Yeah, elementary school sucked.

Now, there are some advantages to being a lefty, such as a higher chance of being ambidextrous. I have always assumed that this was because we lefties are more frequently required to use our non-dominant hand for things (as demonstrated by the previous list), but I have no proof of this. Lefties are also reputed to be more creative, and some evidence suggests that we're better at multitasking.

Overall, I'd have to say that I'm quite happy to be a lefty. I feel like a member of an exclusive club. It's still fun to imagine throwing you righties into a left-handed world, though.

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  • The first thing Sarah said when I told her about the subject of your post this morning was "spiral notebooks!" Too bad we're not 3D beings living in a universe with 4 spatial dimensions, since this whole chirality issue would disappear...then again, it does make things interesting :) (and I can empathize with the mouse issues at least, having had to use one left-handed for a few weeks when recovering from my broken arm.)

    By Blogger Roice Nelson, At January 20, 2009 at 7:30 PM  

  • "Chirality" is a new one for me - that'll have to go on my next New Words list.

    By Blogger charlie, At January 20, 2009 at 7:49 PM  

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