You are probably holding your phone in the palm of your hand right now, your fingers wrapped around it, thumb moving up, down. We hold our phones in our hands every day. It is a way to connect without being physically present. A study by University of Illinois researchers on ‘Phone Walkers’ in Paris found that people kept their phones in their hands even when they were switched off and even if they had handbags or pockets. Other research used attachment theory to explain why the attachment young people have to mobile phones can occur much like the attachment a child has to a stuffed toy.
Interestingly, ‘phone walkers’ were less likely to hold their phones if they were walking with someone of the opposite sex. However, holding hands isn’t just a romantic gesture, as perceived in Western culture. The need to connect with our hands starts from the womb, continuing after birth, as babies instinctively wrap their fingers around those of mum or dad, a palmar grasp reflex for reassurance. It’s a trait we share with primates. It isn’t just handshakes that are a sign of trust. Holding hands in other cultures like in India, Arab and African countries between not only women but men is not sexualised. Instead, holding hands is a sign of respect and friendship. Prominent figures like the Dalai Lama do this and so has Nelson Mandela. Holding hands has also been found to increase oxytocin, a hormone that decreases stress and helps with pain management.
In our hands are thousands of nerve endings that connect to our whole body, so what does it mean when we hold our phone more and more times each day? The inability to hold our phone brings anxiety and when reunited with it our stress is reduced and our confidence boosted. Unfortunately, using it can also bring distrust, hate, disrespect, intolerance, and insecurity, much like an unwanted gesture.
E-readers are used for convenience, however, at least for now, they have not been able to replace physical books, which have instead risen in popularity because of the inability to create the same tactile experience. Similarly, physically holding someone’s hand is different from the phone holding we always do. Technology is only a tool, much like the wood, we burned to make smoke signals centuries ago. Though it’s changing more rapidly than ever before it’s really our human connection that matters most. With reports that constantly holding our phones may be giving us a smartphone slump and emitting harmful radiation, let’s not replace the human hand with our phone.
As you touch each key quickly placing each finger across the other, you should give a palmar grasp of reassurance. Imagine what would happen if as we type we extended a hand of respect to someone not physically within our reach. What compassion we would both give and receive. Robotic hands that can feel now exist helping those who need them.
The Latin root word ‘man’ is a gender-neutral term used to describe us, humans. The Sanskrit word for man is ‘Manus’. Manus means hand in Latin. We see connections in words like manual, manifest, mandate and command. It is therefore suggested that the word hand and man are one and the same. Soon our hand may not be attached to a phone we can hold, but instead to a computerised assistant, we manufacture. One that could be made in our image. We won’t need to type a letter, we will just signal, we will just speak.
What do you want to do?
I want to go for a walk
… Let’s hold hands