culture Buttons You Push Everyday That Don't Actually Do Anything  

Candice Darden
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Placebo buttons are remarkably common. You can push them all you want, but they're not really doing anything. The placebo effect is a well-known phenomenon, wherein you psychologically believe that something works when in actuality it makes no difference. The most common example is taking a sugar pill in lieu of actual treatment and believing it to work, but this this is also in effect in the buttons we push every day.

Crosswalk buttons worked once, long ago, but technology has largely eliminated the need for a user-operated button system. Yet it would have been expensive to replace every single crosswalk button, and so they've remained. The next time you see someone jamming on the crosswalk button trying to change the signal, you can smile to yourself with the knowledge that they are under the delusion of a placebo effect, and are just wasting their energy.

What other buttons do you use every day, unaware that they're not functional? From elevator close buttons to "save" buttons online, you'd be surprised just how many buttons you regularly push that exist simply to soothe you into thinking you're accomplishing something. They're largely vestigial - too expensive to do away with, and everyone is expecting them to be there anyway. Read on to discover exactly which buttons are totally useless!

Elevator Close Buttons

Elevator Close Buttons is listed (or ranked) 1 on the list Buttons You Push Everyday That Don't Actually Do Anything
Photo: orijinal/flickr/CC-BY 2.0
At least most in elevators since the '90s. Some elevators, however, have emergency-activated close buttons, either accessed by a key or by holding the button down for longer than the average user attempts.

Crosswalk Buttons

Crosswalk Buttons is listed (or ranked) 2 on the list Buttons You Push Everyday That Don't Actually Do Anything
Photo: Chris Campbell/flickr/CC-BY-NC 2.0
There was once a time when crosswalks were actually activated by a button that pedestrians pushed, but that time has passed. In 2014, a New York spokeswoman revealed that only 9% of the city's buttons work. Technology allows for algorithmic control signal patterns, so much of America has, like New York, abandoned functional buttons since the '70s. So the buttons are there, the New York Times points out that they "function essentially as mechanical placebos, city figures show. Any benefit from them is only imagined."

The Save Button in Gmail and Google Docs

The Save Button in Gmail and G... is listed (or ranked) 3 on the list Buttons You Push Everyday That Don't Actually Do Anything
Photo:  Google

Once upon a time, Gmail and Google Docs had a "save" button. Which makes sense. When typing up an email or document, your first instinct is to hit that "Save" button along the way to preserve your hard work. Maybe you've been scarred in the past after losing an important message or document because your computer crashed before you thought to save. Yet Google has a handy, built-in auto-save feature which saves your work frequently, allowing you to pick up from right where you left off before your browser crashed. Hitting that save button was actually totally unnecessary, but it did keep you calm.

Given the redundancy of the button, Google did what any good corporation does in the case of redundancy - they got rid of unnecessary elements. Bye bye, save button. RIP.

Office Thermostats

Office Thermostats is listed (or ranked) 4 on the list Buttons You Push Everyday That Don't Actually Do Anything
Photo:  Andy Butkaj/Flickr/Creative Commons
Most of them, anyway. In a 2003 survey, 72% of respondents (workers) admitted to installing dummy thermostats. So maybe it's not your imagination that your office is either freezing or sweltering, despite your boss's insistence that they've adjusted the temperature. Most companies have these bogus thermostats just to keep their workers calmer and happier thanks to the illusion of control.

The 'Print Preview' Button on Websites

The 'Print Preview' Bu... is listed (or ranked) 5 on the list Buttons You Push Everyday That Don't Actually Do Anything
Photo:  Tango! Desktop Project/Public Domain
When you have to print tickets for an event from individual vendors through their websites, the "Print Preview'' button, which displays a nicely formatted ticket page, is simply for show. Turns out it doesn't actually format anything. The vast majority of sites will print out a perfectly formatted ticket page without the extra step of going through the website's "print layout" - it's there simply to reassure you.

Download Progress Bars

Download Progress Bars is listed (or ranked) 6 on the list Buttons You Push Everyday That Don't Actually Do Anything
Photo: FML/Public Domain
Once you've pressed your enter button to download, you're typically greeted with a progress bar, updating you on the progress of the download. Yet this bar is often wildly inaccurate. Its purpose is frequently to soothe more than it is to accurately display download progress. One of the progress bar's inventors, Brad A. Myers, told the New York Times that subjects in an early test group "didn’t mind so much if it was inaccurate. They still preferred the progress bar to not having anything.”

London Underground Train Door Buttons

London Underground Train Door ... is listed (or ranked) 7 on the list Buttons You Push Everyday That Don't Actually Do Anything
Photo: Oxyman/Creative Commons
These door control (open door/close door) buttons could be found on trains made in the 1990s, but their functionality was always controlled by the driver. The buttons technically could allow passengers to operate the doors, but only if the driver gave them access. Want to guess how many times that actually happened?