Updated: September 28, 2006
The Rule of thumb is a principle often used in science to estimate the outcome of an experiment. For instance, we all know that cars have a max. speed of 150-300 kph. It is, therefore, a rule of thumb, to expect similar results from a test car just developed. In other words, rule of thumb is a qualitative guess, based on an existing set of rules or previous experience.
The origin of the phrase dates back to medieval times or early renaissance when men used to beat their disobedient wives using sticks no wider than their (individual husband's) thumb. Today, the application is different, although the idea remains unchanged: use a known value as a reference to estimate a needed outcome.
Why am I telling you all this nonsense?
Human fingertips, on average, have a touch area of about 1cm2. This means that our ability to handle items using fingertips will be limited to about 1cm2. With some utilization of nails and sides of our fingers, we can probably reduce the sensitivity to about 0.5cm2.
Indeed, you will notice that most of the items we use exclusively by our fingertips, one finger at a time, have an area that is about 1cm2 or more: keys on a PC keyboard, various switches inside a car cabin, light switches in our homes, they are all more or less made to fit our digits. Most importantly, they are usually larger than our fingers. But there is one cruel exception. Cell phones.
Some 15 years ago, cell phones were the size of a submachine gun. Slowly, with the advent of ever more modern technology, the cell phones became smaller. But just about when they were supposed to stop being smaller, they only shrank more. And be doing it, they defy the basic rule of thumb. My thumb.
How many times have you accidentally hit the wrong key when dialing on a phone or, Heaven forbid, writing a text message? Compare that to how many times you have missed the light switch in the living room. Of course, the reason is very simple. The keys on the cell phone panels are tiny. They might be OK for children but definitely not adult people. Have you ever seen a woman with fake fingernails trying to dial on a mobile? It's hilarious.
Cell phones are a very cruel, very subtle torture device. They are made small so we can more easily lose them. They are made small so we need to hit 15 strokes for a 6-digit number and 322 strokes for a 20-word message. Imagine you are a typist, but instead of the lovely, comfortable 100+ key keyboard they give you 10 little buttons. For C, you need to hit the little button no.1 three times. For S, you need to hit the little button no.7 four times. For a complicated symbol like an exclamation mark, you need to hit the little button no.0 seventy-nine times. And if you hesitate for a moment between successive presses, a wrong symbol will be displayed and you will have to start all over again. Then, let's not forget the huge display, a whole of 20 mm diagonally. One helluva monitor, eh?
By the way, what's the distance between the ear and the mouth? About 10-15 cm? Well, with cell phones barely exceeding 8-9 cm today, this means that people on the other side of the line are hearing your voice spoken through your upper cheek or maybe the cheekbone. Ever caught yourself deftly shuffling the little tool from ear to mouth, once for listening, once for talking?
For dessert, you get a device that has lots of fun 2K games and a camera with a startling 81x73pix resolution. There are several much better options to play games, see movies, listen to music, or photograph people than a tiny cell phone. Combo gadgets sound like a good invention - and might have been if the manufacturers did not follow the Conservation of Quality principle; Quality is a given constant - adding features to a device will only result in Quality getting spread more thinly between them, while maintaining a total of one.
Now, you did not think they were giving you uber-tech tools for free, eh? I mean getting a real gaming station, a real camera, a real music box, and a phone ... all for the price of a phone, that would be awesome. But for some reason, it does not happen. Makes me wonder why.
This is my cell phone right there, the tiny thing next to my thumb. It's so small I use a magnifying glass to read the display and a needle to dial. I carry it on my wrist, James Bond style, held fast by a bit of adhesive tape. That's the only way to keep it from getting lost. It's a fancy thing that has a laser target designator built in, ninja rope, IR camera with 600x digital zoom, has a ring tone that plays the whole Art of Fugue by Johann Sebastian Bach before getting tired, and it vibrates so hard it can surely overtake my duties as the husband. It's everything I did not ask for in a phone.
Oh, did I mention it is too small?
This is what I want, though; a lump of metal and plastic that can be used as a club in close-quarters combat; a phone with digits so big you can dial with your feet; a simple menu, with only phone numbers and nothing else, no games, no music, no cute ring tones; and most importantly, a PS/2 port for a keyboard!
I might be an old-fashioned clumsy git, but I know one thing when I see it: comfort. I want to be comfortable. I want my toys and gadgets to be adapted to my needs and not the other way around. What movie was it that they said that by year 1997 the machines would rule the world? Well, I guess their guess was not that far off mark.