Not Shaking Hands

If you see me, bump me.

While I was at FounderCon last week I got really sick and spent an entire day in my hotel room. I’m not sure if it was food poisoning or stomach flu, but either way, it was no fun.

The next day at Demo Day, I avoided shaking hands with hundreds of people, each time explaining that I was trying to keep them from catching whatever I had. Some people really appreciated it, but others seemed to be offended. At times it was very awkward.

Sometimes you don’t realize how silly a ritual is until you try to skip it and have to deal with it directly and repeatedly. Anyone who knows me already knows that I usually fist bump anyway, because I feel like handshakes don’t do much more than spread germs. But the handshaking ritual is so deeply entrenched that trying to change it is pretty much pointless.

Just ask Brad Feld. He has long maintained that shaking hands–especially during cold and flu season–only spreads germs, and he’d prefer to do away with the tradition altogether. Brad even started a movement with Paul Kedrosky — “No More Handshakes in ’09.” But as Neil Swidey reported just a few months later in the Boston Globe, the campaign was a complete and total failure. “I found that I was having the same conversation over and over, explaining why I wasn’t shaking hands,” Brad said. “I got tired of it and decided it was easier to just shake everyone’s hands and then wash mine a bunch throughout the day.”

The handshake is thought to have developed as a gesture of peace, to show that neither side was carrying a weapon in their right hand. Since I’m not really afraid that anyone I meet at a conference will be carrying a spear, you’d think we could just move past this tradition. But for the time being, it looks like the handshake will live on. It may not be logical, but plenty of people still like shaking hands, and they’re not ready to let go. I’ll keep fist bumping those I see in the naive hope that maybe, someday, the world will adopt this more sensible protocol.

file under: Startups