I’m willing to be corrected here, but I believe all multicellular creatures have an even number of arms if they have any arms at all, barring an accident or mutation. Chalk it up to God, Darwin, whomever you like: two has won out over one and even three. But our bodies, and those of our brothers in symmetry, were designed for a more difficult time. We needed to swing and grasp, shield and clobber, steer and shift. Now our food is fast, our warfare remote controlled, our gears automatic. Our weaker arm is being relegated to just one task: keeping a cell phone in constant contact with our ear.
I’m in a cafeteria mooching off of speedy wireless internet and I have a vantage of the line streaming through Sbarro. There are five people at various stages of the pizza acquisition process. All of them are carrying out the transaction with one arm. My first instinct is to shake my head and wonder why they are complicating things unnecessarily. But perhaps these people are honing their motor skills. It could be that they – these students, most younger than me – have developed a finer dexterity in that one arm. I begin to think of myself as a dinosaur, still using an arm that is vestigial for those soon to run me into extinction. Could I best them in single-handed combat? Doubtful. I imagine Neanderthal scoffed at the apparent physical disadvantages of Homo sapiens, the slight build and short limbs. Things did not end well for Neanderthal.
This single-handed mode of operation comes so naturally to the Sbarro customers. In fact I can only assume that it is the preferred mode since at least two of them are saying nothing into their phone. They are simply holding it there in case something is said or something even slightly worthy of uttering occurs while purchasing their slice. It could well be that there is no one even on the other end of the connection. The activity of the device is secondary, and the possible utility of a second arm is tertiary.
So now I ask you: what tasks remain that absolutely require two hands? And of these two-handed tasks, how many are actually more popular than they were a decade ago?