Back in December, Matt Yglesias made a joke on Twitter. He posted a photo of a Starbucks cup with the text "Starbucks lovers tell you I'm insane," a reference to a commonly misheard lyric in Taylor Swift's "Blank Space." The tweet got five retweets and 24 favorites, and everyone moved on. Except me. I have been stuck on Matt Yglesias's thumb.
This is the photo Yglesias tweeted. My attention immediately gravitated to Yglesias's left thumb—and what a thumb it is. It is a bit cut off by the camera, but we can still see a budding hangnail. The nail itself is malformed and jagged, likely picked at or bitten sometime before the photo was taken. There appears to be some dirt underneath it. Overall, the thumb is round and stumpy, as if at one point in Yglesias's life it was mechanically compacted. It is openly unpleasant.
This is not to pick on Yglesias. It is instead merely to highlight a specific and pernicious modern problem: Social media is being ravaged by errant, wayward thumbs, like little moles poking out of the ground just begging to be whacked.
Part of the problem is that most thumbs—especially male thumbs—are ugly and unattended to. If you are a man reading this post, pause for a second and look down at your thumb. Is your thumb a part of your body that should be highlighted and shown off? My guess is: no. Your thumb is almost certainly objectively unattractive and likely says more about you than you would like—namely, that you don't pay as much attention to your body as you should.
And yet, thumbs are prominent across Twitter and Instagram and Facebook, protruding into photos in which they have no business, an unwanted hair in the mouths of our feeds. Even thumbs that aren't obviously gross are, at the very least, distracting. In the interest of fairness to Matt Yglesias, here is a photo recently tweeted by my boss Max Read, to his friend Adrian Chen, presumably as part of a running inside joke that I assume is not funny.
The focus of this photo is a flatbread pizza, available for sale at Whole Foods. And yet jutting across the image like the saddest lightning bolt ever is Max's thumb. Again, it's a fine thumb, probably a top-25 percentile male thumb, in terms of structure and hygiene. But how can you look at this photo and focus on anything but... that... damn... thumb?
The solution in both cases would have been simple. Yglesias easily could have moved his camera up or his thumb down. Max should have held the box of pizza flat across his palm and taken a well-framed, thumbless photo. In the first instance, we would be spared the sight of a ravaged, unkempt thumb. In the second instance, we would not have an unwanted guest at the party shouting "Look! Look at me!"
One of the small joys of social media is being able to flick back through your various profiles to remember all the dumb little things you already forgot you found funny. Why ruin both the moment and the glow of your easily accessible nostalgia with a gnarly and utterly useless intruder?
The promise of a perfectly thumbless web of social networks falls on us all—together as a society, but individually as well. Only you can prevent thumbs in photos. If you see thumbthing, say something.