Now Can We End The Barbaric, Repulsive, Germ Spreading Handshake?

Last week was the semi-annual gathering of large parts of Silicon Valley at Y Combinator Demo day. We met and invested in a lot of great startups. But I also picked something else up (I think) at Demo Day – A godawful nasty case of the flu.

This wasn’t just a normal flu. This is the kind of flu where you become a drugstore cowboy, taking any and every pill that can possibly mitigate your suffering. The kind of flu that brings your face into intimate contact with your toilet seat.

Parts of Saturday night I was tripping balls, although I don’t know if it was from the half bottle of NyQuil I downed or from the raging fever slow roasting my brain. I was easily sicker than any time I can remember since I was seven years old.

Two days after I started my girlfriend got it (I’m sorry). We took another swing through CVS today to stock up on more drugs. Most of my symptoms have receded, although I now have a thriving cough and brutal sore throat that I’m pretty sure is planning on sticking around for as long as possible. I also have a very grumpy girlfriend on my hands.

Anyway, I’m blaming Demo Day, particularly after reading about YC head Sam Altman’s own flu woes just now on Facebook. A bunch of other people who were there seem to have gotten sick as well, based on the comments to his post.

How do we fix this? We end the goddamned barbaric practice of handshaking, that’s how.

I first wrote about this in 2009, noting that we continue this repulsively stupid activity only because so many people find it so odd and insulting, not to shake hands.

I wrote again and again about the evils of handshaking, but I eventually gave up and simply started carrying hand sanitizer with me at all times.

I forgot to bring hand sanitizer to Demo Day.

I sincerely hope that Y Combinator bans handshaking at future Demo Days. I also call on TechCrunch and other conference organizers to institute no-handshake policies at events, starting with TechCrunch Disrupt in NY next month.

We know people don’t stay home when they’re sick, and we know that most people rarely wash their hands, even after using the bathroom. The only solution I see to this is for events, where the germs really run wild, to strongly suggest to attendees that they keep their damned hands to themselves.

32 thoughts on “Now Can We End The Barbaric, Repulsive, Germ Spreading Handshake?

  1. Amadeus says:

    The worst part I hear, is that you are most contagious when you don’t even show any symptoms, making a handshake that much more dangerous.

  2. Maybe instead of flatly refusing to shake hands, which does beg an explanation and could be seen as rude, you could say “sorry, I’m not feeling 100%” when someone offers their hand. Now that sounds down-right courteous – you’re trying to avoid infecting others. It’s a little white lie (although, honestly, who does feel 100%?) but it might be a good workaround until it becomes more socially acceptable.

    • Michael Arrington says:

      now imagine saying that 150 times at a tech event.

      • Scott Willy says:

        It is a solution. If you choose not to implement it, it is on you when you get a bug. Your solution to change the world is not practical solution–unless you are a god.

      • stay healthy says:

        (you got my request to cancel comment? My phone malfunctioned.)

      • Jorge Williams nee Staying Alive says:

        You could have your right hand amputated. It’s unsightly, I know, but no one will want to shake your left hand. Or you could do what Bob Dole does, put a pen in your right hand and hold it up so everyone can see it. Put a little flag on it, or a flashing red light if you think they might not see it. Trust me, no one wants to shake hands with you if you have a pen with a flashing light in your hand.

    • stay healthy says:

      Or “air gap”…

  3. Flu is a virus and is spread mostly by air, so if you are in a room with infected people, you probably will be infected by virus too even without touching them. So no handshaking won’t help – if you didn’t literally lick your hands after handshakes, it is ultraunlikely that you got desease via handshake. It was airborne. If you really want no flu, wear a medicas mask at events. THAT one really does help.

  4. Igor Schneider says:

    The flu virus does not spread from skin contact alone there is one extra step required. You have to then bring it in contact with one your mucous membranes (eyes, nose, mouth) within 5 min, that is how about how long the virus lives outside of a warm moist environment.

    But I think this is all moot because of a study I heard about that basically concluded that being in proximity (10 feet) of an infected person and breathing in their exhaust vapor is enough to catch it.

  5. The Japanese have a good solution: wear a white surgical mask when you have a cold. It shows consideration to others it’s clear what it means. And if you’re paranoid you can wear one if you’re healthy. Preventing stuff from entering your mouth or nose is what matters, the hand and therefore the handshake is just a vessel.

  6. Howie Mandel has it right: touching elbows allows for human contact without trading germs.

  7. Jim H says:

    Um…gloves maybe? Wow gloves, that’s the tickets. Screw smart-watches, how about smart gloves? They’ll keep you protected, and informed! Get on it Samsung/Apple.

  8. Shripriya says:

    The answer is the namaste. It exists to avoid touching the other person while showing respect.

  9. G Cat says:

    You want a REAL solution? Don’t avoid the germs, build your immunity. My immunity sucks but when I see my neighbor (a city sanitation worker, aka garbage man) who NEVER gets sick, I wonder how he’s able to do that. It’s not all genetics…he’s got rock solid immunity.

    Write about a company that’s NOT destroying the bacterial/viral landscape but one that is helping us evolve our immunity to cope with a tougher world.

  10. Do you get a flu vaccination every year? It’s not perfect – I caught two short, mild fevers this past winter even after an early flu vaccination.

    But since, as others note, proximity without handshakes is still enough to spread the flu, a campaign for vaccinations (that starts with yourself) is likely to be more effective than a crusade against handshakes…

    (Separately, and this is a bit of a fringe idea, I strongly suspect people are passing asymptomatic or super-mild infections between each other, via handshakes and other proximity, all the time. And further, that these are almost entirely beneficial, as a matter of tuning up the immune system and occupying ecological niches with mild rather than nasty microorganisms. Opting out of handshakes thus could also mean opting out of this “invisible internet of herd immunity” – ultimately meaning more vulnerability to later pathogens. Compare: the ‘hygeine hypothesis’ and the sometimes counter-intuitive fatality rates of seasonal flu strains, based on which generations already survived milder related strains years ago.)

  11. I’m for the Salute myself. Now that’s respect.

  12. geomark says:

    Have your next Demo Day in Thailand, and adopt the Thai method of greeting. No contact; they “wai” each other by placing their hands in prayer position in front of their faces and slightly bowing the head. Quite civilized.

  13. rangarajan says:

    The traditional greeting in India is namaste – your hands pressed together, palms touching and fingers pointing upwards, thumbs close to the chest. This gesture is called Añjali Mudrā. No touching others.

  14. Alexander Thoma says:

    There is only one solution to it – shaking more hands! The only reason for us catching flue is because we take flu shots every year making us more and more degenerated. People have greeted each other by shaking hands for hundrets of years and we should keep it, it is not barbaric (barbaric is to cut you in half with a two handed sword).

  15. douglas says:

    Be proactive. Wear latex gloves to these events… people will be reluctant to shake hands with you and, even if they do, you will have a protective barrier. Or just wear a hazmat suit.

  16. Jeff Brown says:

    Michael, we are a startup who has a PROVEN AND TESTED Anti-Microbial Tech Case (iPad, iPhone, iPad Mini). We designed these products for the heath care and education environments, but we’d love to get one of these in your hands. Please contact us and we will be glad to send you one ASAP.

    Cu Fusion

  17. Start a trend, make free badges for large gatherings, like “No handshake please”, “No need to shake before use (picture of handshake)”, etc.
    That way, you don’t have to explain yourself just point to it. Maybe you will not have handshake free conference, but most people will pay attention and respect your wish. For sure others will join you as well.
    Give it some time and it will become common occurrence.

  18. Check out Sambucol (Wild Elderberry) – its amazing for coughs/etc, and this flu season I started using Oregano Oil, which was amazing even for a skeptical hippie like me. – tastes like ass warmed over with more ass…but amazing at at well it works.

  19. Tamer says:

    I agree there could be alternatives, but the problem would remain relatively identical – 1) you still have to use your hands for pretty much everything, unless you’re going to use your elbows like chopsticks 2) cell phones have more germs on them than toilets seats

  20. Kirill says:

    Are you serious? Honestly, I haven’t used hand sanitizer in years (I just don’t remember when I’ve used one last time) and I haven’t had flu for over 2 years already (I understand that I’m going to get one this week, having said that). Just feed yourself a healthy food and exercise once in a while. Develop a good immune system and you’re golden.
    I’m russian, and I shake hands all the time (there’re a lot of russian engineers in our company in and it’s considered extremely rude in the russian culture not to shake hand when offered as a greeting or else).

  21. Change to a style that affords dress gloves.

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