Monday, March 28, 2011

Bonobos, Washing Machines, and Literacy

Photo courtesy Flickr.
Last year a fellow freshly retired from Stanford Research Institute recommended the website TED.com, a source of privileged, rigorous, utterly witty content, and a fine example of how academic doors are opening to anyone with a yen to learn.

Last week TED posted two seemingly unrelated stories that, at their heart, share the same message: fine motor skills improve the quality of life and are worth protecting.

A video of our closest relatives, bonobos, is described as a ball game played between a male and a female. She grasps his scrotum as he runs in circles. Manual dexterity is obviously critical in this play, and conceivably the game contributed to the evolution of the hand. I like to remind myself that I am not a bonobo.

The other story describes how adding an automatic washing machine to a household with seven children freed the narrator’s mother to take the family to the library. He doesn’t mention the brutalizing effect of handling wet clothing, but “washday hands” was a phrase that appeared in advertising as late as the Fifties.

Between them, the stories address the whole of literacy. Protecting motor skills protects cognition.

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