Button Proliferation Threatens America Are We Being Pushed Too Far

How many remotes do you have to run your television set, vcr, cable converter and sound system? Do you know what all the buttons do?

How many buttons are on your phone? Have you ever used all of them?

Have you realized that Windows 95 is just a fancy button system? Do you know what all the icons (buttons) do?

Do you feel like you're paying extra for a lot of features on electronic equipment (that are run by buttons) that you will never figure out how to use? Do you wish things were a lot simpler?

Do some of the buttons on your appliances even defy your kids' ability to figure them out?

It used to be we had switches. On. Off. That was easy. Then we had buttons with numbers. But things started going downhill when the phone company add # and *. How long was it before you knew that # meant "pound"? Then some smartass added "trf/fl" to a button on your phone. It means something in Japanese. And then you pushed "mic" and got a nice Irish lady asking you how many potatoes you wanted.

America is being overwhelmed with buttons. Buttons to make a picture inside a picture on your television set (which don't work because you're hooked up to cable). Buttons to create conference calls that even your staff can't use.

Pretty soon you won't be able to go to the bathroom without knowing which button to push. You'll be standing (or sitting) and wondering, "does evacuate mean run for my life" or "flush"?

Soon you'll be faced with the choice "delete" or "save" when lying in a hospital bed, fighting for your life. And what happens if you push the wrong button? Can you cancel your previous decision? "I didn't mean to authorize the removal of my kidneys when I pushed that button!" The button said "update ".

Many buttons have little pictures on them, because button-makers assume no one knows how to read. What does a picture of a little scissors mean? Delete a file? Amputate your foot? How about one with a happy face? Do you get a shot of whiskey? Or the sound of laughter from your computer?

"The problem is we have too many choices," explained Dr. M. Puje Boton, with the General Delivery University Institute of Modern Phenomena, "and the ordinary person is flat incapable of making a decision when there are too many options."

"Most button creation is a function of the ability to create buttons," noted Boton. "They are there because someone can make them so."

The problem is there is no standard for button nomenclature. Like international traffic signs. "Each company that produces something with buttons or icons develops its own button language," Boton added. "There are only a few standard button commands in America," he added. "Like BACK or SAVE." Many button designs are proprietary. "If you copy someone else's button you're likely to be sued for patent infringement or something," Boton said.

A real problem with the button proliferation is the undermining of confidence, especially among the young. "It used to be when an adult was faced with a button they couldn't figure out, a kid would walk up, punch it, and make something neat happen," Boton explained. "This did wonders for making kids feel superior to adults."

But now that is changing. "Some of the button arrays are so complex, you need a degree in button engineering to figure them out," Boton noted. The end result is a tremendous waste of capability. "Most newer electronic devices have abilities that mere humans will never fully utilize," Boton went on. "This excess button-driven capacity is an enormous waste of resources."

Consider the amount of time devoted to creating button-driven functions that are never accessed. "If the time spent creating useless button functions were devoted to something useful, like curing cancer, or figuring out how to eliminate the federal deficit, we'd all be much better off," Boton observed.

But in thousands of labs and corporate research and development facilities, the button mania continues unabated. "Whole college classes are already devoted to teaching people what happens when they push buttons or click on icons," Boton commented. "It won't be long before one can earn a doctorate in Buttonology."

The consequences are inevitable. Soon there will be anti-button protest movements. People will refuse to interact with buttons. Buttons bearing the international symbol for "no" will be worn by the anti-buttonists. And, of course, there will be pro-buttonists.

Where will this all end? "The day is rapidly approaching when people will be born with more than just a belly button," Boton opined.

Copyright 1997 by Hugh Holub