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Thursday, February 26, 2009

The Curious Case of Pushing Buttons

Do you ever do stuff just to "do stuff," even if the stuff isn't actually doing anything? Don't feel bad, a lot of people do.

I was standing near an elevator talking on my cell phone (don't worry, I was using my "inside voice") when a man walked up and pushed the "up" button. The button lit up, as these types of buttons do. He must have been in a hurry, because guess what he did next?

That's right, he pushed it again. And then again.

We all know this is pointless, right?!? I mean, once the button is pushed, that's it. There is no "elevator button pushing monitor artifical intelligence" that prioritizes what floor to go to next based on how frequently people push the buttons. It's not like the elevator says, "Oh, hey, the guy on thirteen has pushed the button FIVE times, he must want to get on the elevator more than the woman on six who only pushed it twice."

Believe me, I know that pushing the button more than once does nothing. I graduated college with a computer engineering degree. There was a semester where I couldn't get on an elevator without thinking through the binary logic in "J/K flip-flop" terms. No, "J/K flip-flops" are not what you wear at the beach. Yes, I am a nerd. But that's beside the point.

We've all seen people push the button repeatedly. Heck, I would bet that *you* push it repeatedly from time to time. Why do you think that is?

I have a theory (of course I do): It's because we all have strong need to feel a sense of control. Problems arise when we start trying to control things that we can't. Too many people waste time and energy taking actions just to achieve a sense of control, even if those actions are of no use. Pushing an elevator button repeatedly. Complaining about the economy. Pounding your dashboard when you're stuck in traffic. And on and on.

Step #2 to improvising with anything is to focus on what you can control and let go of the rest. In order to do that, you must be able to quickly identify what it is you actually can control, and also identify the things you can't.

The challenge to you now is to practice this. The next time you are at an elevator where the button is lit up but it seems like nothing is happening, practice your focus and resist the temptation to push the button again - it may be harder than you think!


Kendall said...

I absolutely cannot stand those multiple button push people. But almost as much as those people, I do not understand the logic of having a close door button... that does nothing! Why are we wasting money and worker's time creating buttons that do nothing? I understand that they are used by firefighters when using the elevator, but instead of inspiring hope to people in a hurry, they should create some way to signify that the button is useless... and while doing so create a program that plays a voice saying "You are a d*uchec*ck" to multiple pressers.

Paula G said...

The only thing worse than an elevator button are those crossing signal buttons. You know "Push here to walk" when the traffic light is not in your favor. I know I've hit them once (and occasionally a maddening number of times) and no matter what it never seems to make the light change faster. I think those buttons are just there to make you feel like you have some degree of control, when in fact you either wait or jaywalk :-)