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The Doorbell Singularity

I've been following an interesting chain of posts about the possibility of a Vingean Singularity across several sites, which culminates in this interesting comment from daveon:
Jo's comment that sparked this was: I don't think we'll ever get to the point where understanding the future would be like explaining Worldcon [i.e., the world science fiction annual convention] to a goldfish...

I'm less convinced partly because I've sat back and looked critically at my morning.  This morning I've had 3 conference calls, dozens of "conversations" in text in a variety of IM clients which clutter this nice new screen, sent some test messages and been involved in some email threads.  I would have trouble explaining to my mother, born 1931, that that was actually work.  I don't think this is going to get any better either.
This fits in with a long running conversation I've been having with several people (including the esteemed Mr Vinge), in which the point has been made that the human race has survived many singularities - from the agricultural revolution to global air travel.

It's an issue I think that's actually been widely accepted by society at large. After all, it's part of our comedy background noise already. There's a skit by, ISTR, Mitchell and Webb, where a stone chipper and a tool binder meet a technology evangelist for bronze. The characters find it hard to conceive of anything other than stone and hide, until one makes the conceptual leap to realise that he'll still be binding axe heads onto handles, while the stone chipper will be left behind to starve...

There's an example marypcb and I use that could easily be called "The Doorbell Singularity", and it's an interesting example of how quickly perceptual and societal changes ripple through the world. it's shaped by a simple question:

"What finger do you ring a doorbell with?"

If you're under seventeen (and living in the developed world), you'll probably say "My thumb". It turns out that the widespread use of texting and video games is shifting the pointing and pressing finger from the index finger to the thumb. What's also more surprising is that the change is rippling up the age spectrum at a rate of about two years every eighteen months. A thumb user can't conceive that the index finger is anything other than one used for typing on a keyboard.

Now that's a singularity, and it's catching up with the rest of us very fast indeed...


( 9 comments — Leave a comment )
Jul. 23rd, 2008 06:38 pm (UTC)
Weirdly, I think I would answer "my thumb" despite the fact that (a) that's probably not how I started doing it and (b) I'm 46 and (c) I don't do any significant amount of texting. On the other hand, I do certainly use a mobile phone for phoning, and yes, that's a thumb job.
Jul. 23rd, 2008 07:28 pm (UTC)
The interesting thing for me is that I can't remember the last time I actually rang a door bell... Being an urban dweller it was either dialing an entry code or calling on the mobile to be let in.
Jul. 23rd, 2008 07:45 pm (UTC)
> "What finger do you ring a doorbell with?"

My friend elfy is doing a design course which includes a specific section on the future of the hand - looking at just this sort of thing.
Jul. 23rd, 2008 09:07 pm (UTC)
Hmm, I think I've always used my thumb, and I'm 49. Then again, when I was a kid not so many houses actually had push-button doorbells in my area - quite a few still had actual bells which you turned the knob to ring.
Jul. 24th, 2008 05:46 am (UTC)
I heard somewhere that the change from forefinger to thumb was made by the spread of text messaging -- on the 9-key cellphone keypad, it's often faster and easier to use a thumb, and it was the first time a thumb had been used for manipulation rather than steadying. It made sense to me, even though I giggled a bit at texters (of which I are one) being referred to as "the thumb tribe".
Jul. 24th, 2008 10:20 am (UTC)
texting - and gaming controllers. the other phrase is 'hypermobile thumbs'
Jul. 24th, 2008 08:34 am (UTC)
I heard this a while ago (on the Doctorow podcast?) and occasionally ask people to pretend to ring a doorbell (before relating this fact). I've yet to meet a genuine thumber.
Jul. 24th, 2008 10:19 am (UTC)
I've been quoting this for 2-3 years, since I saw statistics from two surveys 12-18 months apart and what struck me was in the first survey it was under 11 and in the second survey it was under 13, and (allowing for statistical error), that's faster than simply 11-year-olds growing up - the adoption curve is angling. I test a lot of people and I find a very few thumbers in our age group - but I don't interact with many under 11s.
Jul. 24th, 2008 05:02 pm (UTC)
"What's also more surprising is that the change is rippling up the age spectrum at a rate of about two years every eighteen months."

Umm... I'm trying to translate that, and not quite succeeding yet...

Put it this way: if someone's 20 (or 30, or 40) now, how long have they got before they start doing the thumb thing??
( 9 comments — Leave a comment )