Technologizer

Confessions of a Left-Handed Technology User

When it comes to computers, southpaws are faced by a vast right-hand conspiracy.

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GUIdebook

Microsoft's 1993 "Microsoft Mouse 2.0" -- supposedly equally pleasing in either hand, but with suspiciously right-handed curves

I’m not saying that Microsoft’s input-device designers never took the needs of lefties into account so much as that it was a losing battle.

Office keyboard

Microsoft

In this old research paper on the development of its Office Keyboard— which put a scroll wheel and special buttons on the left side of the keyboard, so you could use them while your right hand stayed on the mouse — the company said that 95% of all people moused with their right hand. That would mean that roughly fifty-percent of lefthanders were right-mousers, which sounds about right. With that in mind, there was no scenario under which it would have made sense to place the keyboard’s extra controls on the right side, which is where a left-mouser would want them.

In the same paper, Microsoft discussed a focus group it conducted while developing the keyboard. It included 12 righthanders, and one lefthander who moused with his right hand. Fair enough. Why bring a left-mouser into the process when his or her needs could never, ever supercede those of the right-mousing 95 percent?

Back in the 1990s, when the Microsoft Mouse 2.0 showed up on desks everywhere, it was an unhealthy influence on the input-device industry. Logitech, Microsoft’s mouse-making archrival, also started shaping mice to fit the right hand. Yet Logitech never deserted lefties entirely: It always offered some old-fashioned symmetrical models, and at some points offered models shaped specifically to fit the left hand. So in the mid-1990s, I tended to be a user of Logitech mice.

Microsoft trackball

Microsoft

Then, at home, I switched to Kensington’s wonderful Expert Mouse — still available in a modern version — which wasn’t a mouse at all. It was a trackball, and the cool thing about trackballs is that they’re spherical, and therefore inherently well-suited to both right- and left-handed users.

Well, except for Microsoft trackballs: The company managed to invent one that could only be used with the right hand.

At work, I used a pricey left-handed, medium-sized Contour mouse prescribed to me by an ergonomic consultant hired by my employer. It looked a little like a medical instrument, and visitors tended to make fun of it, but I liked it.

Contour, incidentally, still makes left-handed mice. It only makes them in two sizes though, versus the three it once offered. Righties get four sizes, drat them.

I started out saying I didn’t intend to be whiny about the lot of the lefthander — and yet this article, so far, sounds pretty whiny even to me. Don’t worry: There’s a happy ending, and we’re almost there.

For a time, I fretted that as gadgets became more mobile, they’d grow even more right-biased. For example, the Tablet PC, which Microsoft thought would come to overshadow conventional laptops, replaced left-friendly QWERTY with handwriting recognition, which, if you’re left-handed, makes it tough to see what you’re doing.

PalmPilot

Getty Images

And while I loved my PalmPilot, the Palm OS always felt like it was designed for right-handers: A lot of the features were over on the right edge of the screen, which meant that if you were tapping them with a stylus held in your left hand, you were covering the screen.

But the faster technology has progressed in recent years, the more it’s evolved in ways that eliminate the righty bias. Modern laptops, for starters, are kind to southpaws, in part because touchpads are as ambidextrous as input devices can get: They’re flat and rectangular, and the buttons, when they still exist, are at the bottom, not on one side. For this reason, it’s been years since I last used a mouse or trackball of any type.

Even many modern mice are more lefty-tolerant than most of the ones of the past. The trend has swung back to models which fit either hand equally well. And Razer, God bless it, even makes a left-handed gaming mouse — something I’m tempted to buy even though I rarely play games and never use a mouse.

For whatever reason, current technology products in general seem less obsessive about placing buttons and other controls on the right side, perhaps because so many of them are most often operated by remote controls. For decades, almost all TV sets placed their controls to the right of the screen. On my Toshiba, however, they’re on the left edge.

Heck, HP has even taking to selling what I think of as left-handed printers.

Most important, the arrival of the first iPhone in 2007 ushered in a new era of largely ambidextrous technology. Whether it’s intentional or a happy accident, the iPhone and iPad, and most of the gizmos that have drawn so much inspiration from them, are among the most lefthander-friendly gizmos in history.

Steve Jobs

Getty Images

On both the iPhone and the iPad, Apple’s iconic home button sits in the middle, not on the right side. In fact, while both devices do have nominal “right sides,” they use accelerometers to reorient themselves as you rotate them around; by design, they’re intended to be side-neutral in a way that PCs never are.

The only pointing devices you use are your own fingers and thumbs; either hand works equally well, and the displays are small enough that it’s not a hassle to reach any part of them with whatever digit you prefer.

For me, at least, handedness doesn’t seem to be as much of an issue with phones and tablets as it is with PCs and other devices. Sometimes I hold my phone or tablet in my left hand and operate it with my right hand; sometimes I hold it in my right hand and operate it with my left hand, Or I cradle it with both hands and use both thumbs, or in one hand and use the thumb of that hand. Any which way I try it, it works.

Having spent most of my life adjusting to a right-handed world — I now cut paper with my right hand and can’t even use left-handed scissors when I try — it’s a genuine thrill to think that technology is finally adjusting itself to me.

MORE: Brain Science: Does Being Left-Handed Make You Angry?

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57 comments
danieladougan
danieladougan

Back in 2012, a company called Genius demonstrated a 2-in-1 keyboard/touchpad combination in which the touchpad sat on a track. It could be removed from the right side and moved over to the left side with the track slid over -- or the touchpad could be used independently of the keyboard. This idea was, er, GENIUS to me.


But it was never mass produced. I contacted the company about it, and they said the project got scrapped. 

SaraHagan
SaraHagan

Wearing a watch on the left wrist doesn't mean they don't use the mouse left handed. I'm right handed, but I play games and use my mouse for other general purposes with my left hand. If I wore watches, my watch would be on my left wrist. I'm not ambidextrous, I can't comfortably write with either hand, but when my dad taught me to play PC games, he taught me his way which was to use the left hand for the mouse.

I didn't know any better, and although it's difficult to find a good mouse for a left handed gamer, I find I have an advantage when it comes to using my keyboard with my right hand. I can easily press the shift, ctrl, and tab keys at the same time as I'm using WASD. I can't even figure out how to do that comfortably with my left hand. Using spacebar with my pinky (usually to jump, but I can always use a different button if I want) isn't too uncomfortable. I can keep my left hand on my mouse while I use the NUM pad, which is another thing I find useful. And as far as laptops go, I don't have to move my mouse out the way to open the CD tray. :)

People ask me all the time how I can play left handed, especially since I am actually right handed, but I find it very easy. Not only because it's what I was taught. Using the keyboard with my right hand for games just feels more natural with easier access to other keys.

MaryPaisly
MaryPaisly

I taught myself to be ambidextrous and I can now use the computer mouse with either hand equally well. Whenever one hand gets tired, I just switch to the other one!

daxchunjae99
daxchunjae99

I'm ambidextrous and that's the best. When I was little I had to convince my parents that being left handed was better for my handwriting. Along the years, I switched back and forth and I thank the lucky stars above for this gift. Why?

One day in Class I was doing homework with my left and and taking notes with my right and I got caught. Seems like a petty offense outside of School but this was a very serious matter on School grounds. However, the Instructor was so impressed with my attempt at multi-tasking  that he gave me a reprieve! I will never forget that incident and to this day I like to write with both hands just to break the ice, flirt with girls, show-off, or just exercise my boredom! 

Anyways, I found out 10% of our population are left handed, but only 1% of the population are truly ambidextrous. In other words, there's 7 Billion people on this Planet; 300 Million people in United States. That means  only 70 Million people on this Planet are ambidextrous and only 3 Million in USA. Now that's gifted!  ^_^  ~Cheers

robberrones
robberrones

Being a lefty, I'm used to it. From the scissors in kindergarten to can openers, you just adapt. It is just something we lefties deal with. It makes us better adapters.

WillD2
WillD2

Wearing your watch on your left hand is NOT a tell-tale sign of right-handedness. I am ambidextrous and I wear my watch on my left hand. Some things I can do equally well with both hands, some things left only, and believe it or not, some things right only.

Game Center Games
Game Center Games

I never really thought about that before. That would be crazy to have to reach over to the right side of everything when you are left handed. I feel bad that they don't try to meet your needs better. You would think 10% of people would be a large enough pool of people. 

briwayjones
briwayjones

I think biologically there are a lot more left-handed people than statistics show.  I think many parents and adults teach kids to be right-handed without even realizing it.

Obzervur
Obzervur

I think some of this could be learned behavior.  I'm right handed but my father was left handed.  I deal cards left handed and in archery I hold the bow in my right hand but draw the arrow back with my left hand.  The arrow rests to the right of the bow. I have more grip strength in my left hand.  If my wife wants me to open a tight jar, the lid is in my left hand. There are several other things I in reverse of what other people do, but I can't think of them at this time. I still wear my watch on my left hand.  I have had cataract surgery with each replacement lens to a different prescription. The doctor asked : which one do you want your long distance eye and which do you want to be your reading close.  I chose left for reading eye and right for my shooting eye.

Charles Boyer
Charles Boyer

I'm left handed and am hamstrung a lot more often by writing on a whiteboard or with slower drying ink on paper than I am a mouse or a design's form factor.  In fact, the only real pain for me was the iPhone 4's antenna flaw -- being left-handed, I very naturally shieled out by coverage.  And that was solved with a bumper on the phone...

Carlos Q. Coutinho
Carlos Q. Coutinho

Try being a guitar player.  I had to pay $680 in 1985 to get a guitar left handed.  Strangely, since I'm so use to playing guitar left handed and my fret hand is my right hand, mousing with my right hand doesn't seem unnatural.

Annoyingly, the only thing I can think of that available (almost) equally right or left handed are bows (as in archery).  Fred Bear, the founder of Bear Archery shot left handed so every single Bear bow is available lefty...and shooting a bow is one of the few things I do right handed.

James MacFarlane
James MacFarlane

Try any Adobe product. With your left hand on the mouse, try using copy/paste. The left-handed shortcut is CTRL+INS/SHIFT+INS. This works on virtually every windows application, EXCEPT those made by Adobe where you are forced to use the right-handed CTRL+C/CTRL+V, which is virtually impossible to do with your left hand on the mouse. As a web UI dev, this is a complete pain is the ass.

Matt Stedman
Matt Stedman

And bullet proof, it's all we buy now days.

Matt Stedman
Matt Stedman

If you have actually used a Palm Pilot, you would know they have a left handed mode that moved the scroll bars to the left hand side. I will give the older MS mice, they sucked for lefties. The buttons on the left of the keyboard, where else do you want them? In the middle? 

neploxo
neploxo

The biggest current offender is the Nintendo Wii controller, which is touted as usable in either hand. However, it includes a wrist strap that, if you use your left hand, makes it impossible to rotate the controller for certain games without removing the strap and replacing it on the right (er, wrong) wrist.

I wouldn't call the iPhone *completely* left-friendly.  The volume buttons and silent switch are on the left side, convenient if you're holding it in your right hand, but a little more awkward as they require the use of your thumb when holding the phone in your left hand. Also, when you are using the camera and rotate the phone, those buttons can be used to snap photos, conveniently placed for access to the right index finger, not the left.

Guest
Guest

I have a couple comments about this article.  First I don't want to be

compared to Justin Bieber, Lady Gaga, Oprah or Prince William.

Second I think you need to pay attention a little more.  Twice you

reference people not being left-handed because they have their watch on

their left arm.  When in fact most if not nearly all left-handed people

wear their watches on their left arm.  Righties wear their watches on

their left arm because it's not their dominate arm, is less used and

therefore the watch will take less abuse on the left arm.  But us

left-handers being on the right side of our mind think differently and

have different logic processes than right handed people.  Lefties think

simply, I'm left handed so I should wear my watch on my left arm.  I

actually see more right-handed people wearing their watches on their

right arm than I see left-handed people doing so.

 

briwayjones
briwayjones

I have a couple comments about this article.  First I don't want to be compared to Justin Bieber, Lady Gaga, Oprah or Prince William.

Second I think you need to pay attention a little more.  Twice you reference people not being left-handed because they have their watch on their left arm.  When in fact most if not nearly all left-handed people wear their watches on their left arm.  Righties wear their watches on their left arm because it's not their dominant arm, is less used and therefore the watch will take less abuse on the left arm.  But us left-handers being on the right side of our mind think differently and have different logic processes than right-handed people.  Lefties think simply, I'm left handed so I should wear my watch on my left arm.  I actually see more right-handed people wearing their watches on their right arm than I see left-handed people doing so.

deltalmg
deltalmg

Wearing your watch on the left hand proves you are right handed? If Steve Jobs was really ambidextrous how would having a watch on the left wrist prove anything? It could just have easily been on the right though fashion norm is that it be on the left. So unless you have a reason too (left handed and care enough to break with convention) you'd put the watch on the left.

Rickygervais
Rickygervais

My cell phone almost gets it right.  The camera lens is in the upper left corner of the rear panel however, so that when I am using it as a phone it is right under my index finger.  And when I hold the phone horizontally with that my the bottom buttons on my left, the toolbar is still on my right.  Fortunately, I've installed a custom ROM which has some adjustments for left-handed use.

txarchi
txarchi

I am a lefty who proudly uses my right hand for the mouse.  I can actually multitask and write things down with my left hand as I use my right on the mouse.  I am in a design orientated field dominated with lefties and the majority of us find it silly to tinker with a "left handed mouse."  I can use any computer without making a production of moving the mouse or (as this author seems to infer) carry around my favorite little left handed mouse. 

I wear my watch on my right hand but I guess since I bought a modern one that I don't need to wind each night, it has never bothered me.  Im glad I have a heightened sense of motor skills so that I am not so dependent on my left hand to do everything.

I think I might even use both hands equally when I sneeze.  And I can wave with both as well.  Phew!

minnesota linux
minnesota linux

This whole article seems to be about mice.  I know it isn't, and i hate non-symetrical mice as well (oh that stupid [Back] button has erased so many emails!), but us lefties have far more annoyances than just mice.  Tech comes in many forms.  Couldn't the author perhaps mention lawn mower pull cords?  Guitars and pianos?  kitchen utensil handles?  Can openers?  old cordless phones with the [Hangup] button right where my jaw rests?

AndrewRead
AndrewRead

I am a left-handed right hand mouser.  I have had to stop wearing a wristwatch as the buckle digs into my right wrist when using the mouse.  I disagree that tablets and smartphones are neutral - I can only switch my iPhone on be swiping from left to right if I hold my iPhone in my right hand.  If I hold my iPhone in my left hand then I need both hands to switch it on.  Also, the volume and mute buttons on an iPhone 4 are located under your index finger if you hold the phone in your right hand.

Jeffrey
Jeffrey

I disagree with the iPad assessment. I find some apps are designed specifically with the right hander in mind.  Specifically Reeder, an otherwise great RSS reader app, has the control panel on the left side, which makes it difficult hold with the right hand and control, while using your left hand for writing notes, or something.

I'm a lefty on almost everything, but I do mouse (and golf) righty. It seems I want to hold my iPad with my right hand most of the time, which I can't tell if that makes me a righty or a lefty with that device.

Ron Johnson
Ron Johnson

Microsoft's Basic Optical  Mouse is symmetric (and cheap).

Andrew Somerville
Andrew Somerville

I'm a lefty, and for my entire life I've worn my watch on my left hand. Most of these examples seem to me to be fringe cases. What does it matter which side the DVD drive is on? It's not like it requires a great deal of dexterity to use it. 

Trust me, most left handers are not nearly this desperate to fabricate injustice.

Edmund Singleton
Edmund Singleton

Being left handed is a little like being gay in a straight world...

Stat Viewer
Stat Viewer

I've always found it advantageous to use my non-dominant hand for the mouse.  This saves my dominant hand for writing down notes.  Certainly before the optical mouse, it was quite annoying to have to move the mouse and mousepad away before writing.  Thus, as a righty I always use my left hand for the mouse.  This is of course the same reason why I wear my watch on my left hand -- too annoying to have it clang against the desk while writing... 

SaraHagan
SaraHagan

@Stat Viewer When I am playing games or browsing, I use my left hand too, despite being a righty. It makes more sense to me to have my right hand using the keyboard because it has better access to the TAB, Shift, and Ctrl keys on the left which is what many games require you to use. Plus, I can use my mouse AND the numpad at the same time. Aside from wishing there were more left handed mice because I get sick of ambidextrous mice having buttons on BOTH sides which causes me to always accidentally press the ones on the left of the mouse (yet I don't want a mouse with zero extra buttons on the side), I'm glad I was taught to play left handed.

harrymccracken
harrymccracken

Also, btw, I'm not insisting that all left-handers wear their watches on their right hand. Plenty of us wear it on the left hand, mouse with the right hand, etc. And as I mentioned, I cut with my right hand. But in cases where we do the opposite of righties, it isn't a silly affectation; it's logic.

lokiii
lokiii

No big deal.  Being a lefty does come with perks.  You are almost ambidexterous by default, you can drive right handed people nuts in sports, and real handy in fist fights.

David Hamilton
David Hamilton

When Microsoft launched their asymmetric mouse, with the statement that it was just as good for left-handers, my response was:

"In that case, why isn't it curved the other way?"!

Your comments about trackpads being more left-hander-friendly are absolutely true: I'd pretty much got used to using a mouse with my right hand, but since using laptops I've reverted: I now have a trackpad on the left side of my desktop and have never tried it on the right.

Mobile Comparison
Mobile Comparison

What does the hand you wear your watch on have to do with being right handed let alone "clear evidence"?