All day every day, throughout the United States, people push buttons – on coffee makers, TV remote controls and even social media posts they ‘like.’
For more than seven years, I’ve been trying to understand why, looking into where buttons came from, why people love them – and why people loathe them.
As I researched my recent book, ‘Power Button: A History of Pleasure, Panic, and the Politics of Pushing,’ about the origins of American push-button society, five main themes stood out, influencing how I understand buttons and button-pushing culture.
In the late 19th century, the Eastman Kodak Company began selling button-pushing as a way to make taking photographs easy.
The company’s slogan, ‘You press the button, we do the rest,’ suggested it wouldn’t be hard to use newfangled technological devices.
This advertising campaign paved the way for the public to engage in amateur photography – a hobby best known today for selfies.
Yet in many contexts, both past and present, buttons are anything but easy. Have you ever stood in an elevator pushing the close-door button over and over, hoping and wondering if the door will ever shut? The same quandary presents itself at every crosswalk button.
Programming a so-called ‘universal remote’ is often an exercise in extreme frustration. Now think about the intensely complex dashboards used by pilots or DJs.
For more than a century, people have been complaining that buttons aren’t easy: Like any technology, most buttons require training to understand how and when to use them