John-Clark Levin and George Posner well may hold a new record for social networking. Not online social networking where people talk about themselves in the third person and take quizzes like “If you were pasta, what kind of noodle would you be?”
Theirs is Social Networking Version 1.0. In the time before Facebook, there was face to face; and before MySpace, there was welcome to my personal space.
Levin, of Ojai, and his college buddy George Posner recently set the world record for shaking hands. Earlier this month, they pressed the flesh for 10 hours, 10 minutes and 10 seconds to achieve their 15 minutes of fame.
I would have imagined this endurance title would be held by a politician 17 points behind in the polls or a Big 10 university president handing out sheepskin rather than these two freshmen at Claremont McKenna College in the San Gabriel Valley.
The college stunt is hardly new to this generation. Youth of bygone eras danced until they dropped. And of course baby boomers did that thing we did so well: Grow hair. Undergraduates have been known to swallow goldfish or pack themselves into a phone booth.
With nary a phone booth to be found these days, what can a guy do to raise money for charity?
Levin hit upon this obscure form of marathon while surfing the Internet looking for a Guinness World Record to break. He suggested it to Posner, a native of Brookline, Mass., who had been looking for a way to raise cash for the Cancer Research Institute, which funds studies of immunological approaches to conquering cancer.
Levin saw the record in their grasp. After all, shaking hands was something they could do right on campus and it wasn’t dangerous like juggling chain saws, Levin rightly observed.
What could be the downside of a marathon handshaking, they asked themselves? A few blisters maybe. So they went for it.
Posner, an engineering major, set about enhancing their performance. To prevent the friction that could result from sweaty palms, he discovered spritzing isopropyl alcohol into their clenched hands would dry them rapidly. Not to mention keep swine flu at bay.
Applying the laws of physics, he determined the best way to save energy and prevent the possibility that their motion might stop accidentally was for one of them to do the shaking while the other rested. In this one oddball case, a limp grip is a winning strategy.
They went into training, practicing a few hours at a stretch while they ate, a regimen that drew more than a few stares from fellow diners who thought they might have lost their grip on reality.
As for bathroom breaks, they decided to gut it out. The camera and its operator, which Guinness World Records requires to record every second, would have to accompany them into the men’s room. Neither relished the thought of that footage going viral on YouTube.
Their attempt started at 10:14 a.m. May 5 in the college’s auditorium. Students stopped by throughout the day to check on their progress, they reported.
While it beats watching grass grow hands down, the stunt was hardly electrifying. Levin figures the only job that might prepare one for it is working on an assembly line.
Through e-mails, the campus was alerted to the fact the pair would break the record at 8:14 p.m. And a crowd gathered to watch them best the previous mark, set by two naval intelligence officers in Hawaii, also for charity.
In all, Levin and Posner raised about $1,000 in pledges for the Cancer Research Institute.
Only slightly less tedious than shaking hands was compiling the proof for the Guinness World Records. The materials, including a video and notarized witness statement, had to be mailed to England for verification. Levin and Posner hope to hear by the end of the month if they have made handshaking history.
I asked Posner if the experience had given him insight into the pleasure and purpose of this simple greeting.
“The handshake, although originally western, is a nearly universally accepted symbol of goodwill,” he said. “I found it to be very functional, friendly and old-fashioned.”
I don’t need to shake a person’s hand for 10 hours to wonder if in all this high-tech networking we lose the human touch. A handshake is a socially acceptable way to feel the skin of another human being and to look that person in the eye and to get a measure of him or her. It is such a personal gesture because while doing it is impossible to hold that person at arm’s length.
Virtual social networking connects us in many interesting ways, those silly quizzes not withstanding. But this real form of social networking underscores something basic in our humanity.
As someone astutely observed. Life is and always will be a contact sport.
— And you can contact Colleen ccason@VenturaCountyStar.com.