Illusion of control: Why the world is full of buttons that don’t work

Posted on September 4, 2018


CNN, amid all of the stories that have world import, has finally come up with a story that actually means something in our own tiny personal universes: the countless buttons in our lives that are intended to give us a sense of being in control. This is because, basically, our lives are out of control. We are all fools, laughing at some inane joke, helpless as the pee runs down our legs.

CNN begins by asking the following:  “Have you ever pressed the pedestrian button at a cross walk and wondered if it really worked? Or bashed the ‘close door’ button in an elevator, while suspecting that it may, in fact, have no effect whatsoever?”

Of course you have. You already know the punchline, here:
“You’re not alone, and you may be right. The world is full of buttons that don’t actually do anything.”

LBL has long suspected that the buttons that populate our lives do absolutely nothing.  This is based on decades of pressing them and watching absolutely nothing happen. CNN notes that “they are sometimes called ‘placebo buttons’– buttons that are mechanically sound and can be pushed, but provide no functionality.”  The reason: “Doing something typically feels better than doing nothing.”

Let us now review some of these fake buttons. Some of the following examples are included in the CNN article.  Others are ABSOLUTELY TRUE only because LBL made them up and they sound really good and anyone who says otherwise is FAKE and a TOTAL LOSER:

Don’t Walk

LBL, like most red-blooded, English-speaking, God-fearing, true, born- here Americans, has always been quite skeptical about the buttons at street corners. These are the ones that would seem to be there to press and notify whoever is in charge of such things, to change the light.

LBL has stood there, pressing and pressing with the best of them, never sure that her pressing actually did anything. It turns out, it probably didn’t. CNN points out that those buttons used to serve an actual purpose. Now, due to increasing traffic and computerized coordination between lights (with the usual goal of having every single light turn red as LBL approaches) , the function of the buttons is no longer needed. But the physical buttons remain.  In New York City, only 100 in 1000 cross walk buttons actually function. And that number, not unlike the white-rumped vulture, is steadily decreasing, as are folks who still believe that pressing the button means something.

Elevator Close Door

LBL, like many other Very Important People, is sometimes in such a Big Rush to get to whatever Important Places she needs to get to, that she doesn’t have enough time to wait until the elevator door closes on its own. In the most self-important way she can, she jabs the little button with the door closing icon. She believes she is actually doing something. It turns out, she isn’t.

If you are like LBL, Kevin Brinkman of the National Elevator Industry is here to burst your bubble, and as it turns out, for good reason.  Brinkman states, “The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990  requires that an elevator’s doors remain open long enough for anyone with disability or mobility issues, such as using crutches or a wheelchair, to get on board the cab safely.”  So, push away, guys. Nothing will happen.

Readers Note: Unlike the “Close” button, the “Open” button generally works. It does not work, however, when one spots someone rushing toward the elevator and one wants to help them out by opening the closing door. In this case, all buttons suddenly seem to look exactly alike, and the guilt one experiences adds to the inability to locate the correct button. One stands there as the doors close in the face of the hapless elevator traveller wannabe who will forever assume that you didn’t care enough to try to re-open the doors for them.

Hotel Thermostats

If you believe that hotel room thermostats actually allow you to fully control the temperature in your room, you probably also believe that the new tax code will benefit everyone and coal will, once again, be king.

Thermostats in hotel rooms, as well as offices,  are known to limit the temperature range available to users, thus reducing energy costs.  Worse,

“Dummy” thermostats — those not wired into the system at all — can also be found in offices, according to Donald Prather of Air Conditioning Contractors of America.  Donald, like Kevin, delights in making all of us look like complete fools.

Computer Keys

Computer keys, while technically not buttons, are things you press with your fingers, exactly like buttons.  This category of faux buttons also includes piano keys and sticking your finger through the underside of boxed chocolates so you can figure out if you want to eat the chocolate.  For the purposes of this blog post, we shall consider computer keys “buttons.”  We have no opinions about piano keys. We do, however, wish somebody would do something about unlabeled chocolates.

There are hundreds of these button computer keys and, with the exception of letters,  most of them simply don’t work. They have little illustrations on them that nobody understands.  For example, why is there a button with an airplane?  Why is there a button that says “prt sc sysrq?”  Why is there an “fn” button?  Why is there button that looks like an anti-window warning, except the window is upside down?  Why are computers anti-window?  Or are they reminding people not to trust upside down windows?

LBL has never noticed most of these little buttons.  But when these are called to her attention, she makes every effort possible to avoid them.

So why all the buttons?  LBL doesn’t have a clue, and for the most part she doesn’t care.  She has enough problems keeping track of all the little letter buttons and making sure they don’t disappear on her.

Secret Computer Key Button

LBL needs to call special attention to a secret little button on her computer that makes everything disappear. She has never found it. It only activates when she is writing an especially intelligent and entertaining blog post and has forgotten to save it as she goes along. Invariably she will hit the secret computer key button that sends her post into oblivion. She is sure that, whatever that button should be doing, it isn’t doing.  It is, instead, ruining her life.

TV Remote

The average TV remote is filled with a countless number of buttons that have no purpose whatsoever. They are fake buttons, there to have people believe that they can control not only their TVs with the remote, but every area of their lives (for example, their “PIP,” which is indicated on the remote).

LBL has had a lot of experience with TV remotes.  At one time or another, she has pressed every single button that exists. None of them do anything to allow her to actually watch TV.

Secret TV Remote Button

Like the computer, the remote has a secret little button that turns one’s TV into entirely Spanish-speaking.  When LBL experienced this, she was delighted. She thought the stations were doing a great public service for the Spanish-speaking community. Several weeks later, though, she was still unable to watch the news. A call to her provider resulted in her being able to undo what the little mystery button had done.

In sum, we can say that the main purpose of buttons of any kind is to allow us to believe we have control over our lives, even if the reality is the exact opposite.  And, given the state of the world right now, we should all have a lot more buttons around us than we already have.

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