April 05, 2019

Credit: Getty Images / Mats Silvan

Buttons make the world go round. How else would you tell an elevator to whisk you up to the sixth floor, or get a candy bar out of a vending machine? Buttons are the simple interface for how we interact with more complex technology. They cover up the wires and inner workings of your TV and microwave, and make tech accessible at, you guessed it, the push of a button. Rachel Plotnick, author of “Power Button: A History of Pleasure, Panic, And the Politics of Pushing,” explains the origin of buttons, their role throughout history, and how they continue to evolve in our world today.

Three Takeaways:

  • Buttons create a power dynamic and often signify status. Starting in the late 1800s, they served as a way to distance the wealthy and privileged from their servants. If you needed help, all you had to do was push a button.
  • In the 1950s and 1960s, there was a boom in button-pushing, according to Plotnick. With the invention of machines like microwaves, buttons became our at-home servants, instead of people.
  • Are we entering a post-button society, with the rise of touchscreens and voice-controlled interfaces? Plotnick thinks that buttons are more user-friendly than touchscreens in some circumstances, and continue to be essential for many people with disabilities.

More Reading:

technology, Rachel Plotnick, buttons, history, Sci and Tech

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