OnQ Blog

Left-handed Lament: Confessions of a gadget-loving southpaw

Aug 13, 2015

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Darren Murph is a Guinness World Record-holding journalist, author, and consultant. He’s covered the untamed world of technology for nearly a decade, driven a motorized vehicle in all 50 States, and is probably on an airplane to anywhere at this very moment. Darren currently works at Weber Shandwick, an agency that consults with Qualcomm. The views expressed are the author’s own, and do not necessarily represent the views of Qualcomm.

I've been a lefty my whole life. My mom and pop didn't consciously choose this for me, but they've never apologized for being responsible for my fate, either. Over the years, the offenses have stacked up: I paid (way) more for my guitar than any of my friends. I had to order my Little League glove from some warehouse in Ohio. Oh, and I still have to watch "How To Tie a Tie" videos on YouTube in a mirror to prevent the mental meltdown that comes when trying to follow the most basic of instructions.

Somewhere around 10 percent of the planet's population identifies as left-handed. That's not a lot, statistically speaking, but if you've ever had the great fortune of meeting a lefty, you'll understand why there's an entire day devoted to us. Today, August 13, is International Left Handers Day, a full 24 hours devoted to celebrating the accomplishments of a minority, while also providing good reason for oddballs like me to commiserate about how far we still have to go before the world treats us as equals.

For fans of technology, specifically, being left-handed is a continual struggle. By default, computer mice are arranged for righties, television remotes are built with the majority in mind, and power buttons are always exactly opposite of where they should be. Growing up, I asked my parents if something was wrong with me after a playmate pointed out that I was holding my Atari 2600 controller "upside-down." Even a device as simple as that—boasting a single joystick and a lonely red button—made us southpaws feel lesser.

In many areas of life, handedness doesn’t matter. Washing-machine doors are now swappable, ink pens work equally well in either hand, steering wheels are just as round for lefties as righties, and a hearty wave or high five invokes smiles from passersby regardless of which multi-fingered extremity you use. But for some reason, technology companies are failing to recognize just how important we 10 percent are.

I'm not the first to point how many historical geniuses have been left-handed, or that three of America's last five presidents were proud southpaws. What’s more, Dr. Nick Cherbuin, a neuroscientist at the Australian National University, has found that lefties are generally better at "handling large amounts of stimuli," which makes them naturally superior at video games. And yet, even giants like Nintendo never saw fit to make a left-handed Power Glove.

All jesting aside, it's remarkable that lefties still have it as tough as they do in a world dominated by technology. But I've been around monolithic tech outfits (more than seven years as an editor at Engadget will do that to you) long enough to know that business decisions are typically driven by what'll make the majority happy. And while it rarely pays to service a small crowd, I'm more hopeful than ever that we're inching closer to appendage equality.

Five years ago, Razer shipped the world's first left-handed gaming mouse, while a year prior Microsoft attempted to split the difference by shipping an "ambidextrous" SideWinder X3 for general use. Now, thanks to platforms like Indiegogo and Kickstarter, it's easier than ever to produce profitable hardware for niche audiences. Going forward, I'd wager that gaming outfits will look to crowdfunding campaigns to support the production of left-handed apparatuses. After all, when you're making small batches, all you need is a passionate group of supporters—perhaps fueled by the reality of being underserved since the dawn of time—and you've a recipe for success.

Beyond that, I'm also enthralled by what software is doing for accessibility as a whole. Modern operating systems enable lefties to switch the position of their mouse (and its subsequent inputs) with a simple settings tweak. For gamers unable to use the conventional "WASD" movements on a keyboard, programmable software mapping enables them to use any keys they wish. Even smartwatches, products that didn't exist long ago, have prompts during setup that ask which wrist you'd prefer. Lefties using an Apple Watch, for instance, are able to tweak the menu and button layout to suit their preferences. (We're still pretty far from being able to relocate physical buttons, though.)

In my view, tapping software to enable ambidextrous technology will solve many woes for southpaws. Almost nothing we touch in the digital world is only buttons and actuators. If there's an OS, a screen, or a virtual keyboard, there's the ability to form a user interface based on the specific preferences of an individual. Be it moving icons to the opposite side for lefties, or building apps that support screen readers for the blind, software provides a more sensible (and economical) solution than building multiples of everything.

Now, about those spiral-bound notebooks…

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Darren Murph

Journalist, author and consultant

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