Culture

Buttons You Push Everyday That Don't Actually Do Anything 

Candice Darden
Updated March 8, 2020 1.4M views 7 items

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 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 those on a thermostat, 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

Close buttons in most elevators have been deactivated 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. The New York Times points out that the buttons still exist so that they "function essentially as mechanical placebos, city figures show. Any benefit from them is only imagined."

Office Thermostats
Office Thermostats is listed (or ranked) 3 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 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 dummy thermostats to keep their workers calmer and happier with the illusion of control.

Download Progress Bars
Download Progress Bars ... is listed (or ranked) 4 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.”