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Useless buttons

Updated on November 29, 2016
This works just as well to close doors and open crosswalks
This works just as well to close doors and open crosswalks | Source
Close that door
Close that door | Source

Useless buttons are everywhere

The "close-door" button in the elevator, the crosswalk button at the intersection, even the thermostat in your office — there's a good chance that they're all placebos. Over the last 20 years or so, many of these buttons have become technically useless, left in place both because it's expensive to replace existing equipment and because, psychologically, they still serve a purpose. To keep you placated.

Pedestrians push button, You are in charge
Pedestrians push button, You are in charge | Source
we are trained like Pavlov's dogs, trained to drool on cue,
we are trained like Pavlov's dogs, trained to drool on cue, | Source
Ivan Pavlov
Ivan Pavlov | Source

Pavlov's Dogs

Flip a switch and the light comes on, press the elevator button, it lights up. You press the button on the vending machine; a soft drink comes down the chute. Press a button at cross walk and eventually the light changes. We have been conditioned just like Pavlov's dogs, we may not be drooling, (at least I'm not drooling, not sure about you) but we are confident that when we hit a switch something is going to happen. When approaching a crosswalk, do you press the button; even though you just saw someone else press the button? Alternatively, maybe you press and hold that button; this is a surefire way to let the circuit that you are in a hurry. Perhaps you are one of those who press it repeatedly; this will certainly give the circuit a sense of urgency.

Would it surprise you to learn that many of these buttons are not connected to the traffic light? That’s how conditioning works. As long as you get the result you were looking for when you pressed the button, it doesn’t matter if the button did anything. You will keep on pressing those buttons. Then there is the Close Door button in elevators. According to a 2008 article in the New Yorker, close door buttons haven't closed elevator doors in many elevators built in the United States since the 1990s. AT least the button is still there and we are not quite bright enough to catch on. The door does close and maybe if I had just pressed it harder, or longer, or repeatedly, the door would have closed more quickly. All those heroes/bad guys in the movies who escaped certain destruction by hopping in an elevator just had no help from the close door button. As long as the door closes after we press the close door button, we think we controlled it so we will continue pressing buttons. Pavlov must be laughing in his grave.

Five days a week I pressed those crosswalk buttons and watched others press again and again or press and hold. Was it all futile?
Five days a week I pressed those crosswalk buttons and watched others press again and again or press and hold. Was it all futile? | Source

Only One Button

In an investigation by ABC news in 2010, only one functioning crosswalk button could be found in Austin, Texas; Gainesville, Fla.; and Syracuse, NY. (Hey, I used to work in Gainesville and I pressed those placebo buttons many times. Maybe my button was the one that actually did something) "The city (of Syracuse) deactivated most of the pedestrian buttons long ago with the emergence of computer-controlled traffic signals", NYT.

Placebo Controls

Honeywell_round_thermostat  Yeah but does it work?
Honeywell_round_thermostat Yeah but does it work? | Source
Pacebos, they're not just for drugs
Pacebos, they're not just for drugs

Control the temperature

We, at least you can control the temperature in your office, assuming you are one of the lucky ones to have a thermostat in your cubicle/office/kitchen/store. In my career, I have had a couple of kitchens with actual thermostats present. I would see a menagerie of cooks and waiters paying homage to the God of hot and cold, adjusting the temperature over and over again. The temperature never seemed to change and the staff didn't seem to be causing any harm so I learned to ignore the folly.

From the Wall Street Journal:

HVAC experts acknowledge what millions of office workers have suspected all along: A lot of office thermostats are completely fake -- meant to dupe you into thinking you've altered the office weather conditions.

The specialists are unrepentant. Fed up with of complaints from sweaty men and shivering women, HVAC technicians install dummy thermostats to give workers the illusion of control. In some leased buildings, even the corporate tenants don't know the thermostats are useless. Other times, it's the companies themselves, barraged with calls from workers, who ask the landlord's HVAC technicians to "fix" things.

Push Buttor, Receive Bacon

Some buttons work but you still ain't getting any bacon from this one
Some buttons work but you still ain't getting any bacon from this one | Source

Tricky Employees

If you do have a working thermostat it's probably locked, or encased behind shatterproof glass. Clever employees are not above a bag of tricks. Want more heat? Try hanging a bag of ice around the thermostat. More AC? Warm the thermostat with a candle or disposable lighter, try not to set the place on fire.


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    • profile image


      5 years ago

      i Chinese but buttons are yumme

    • chefsref profile imageAUTHOR

      Lee Raynor 

      6 years ago from Citra Florida

      Thanx Sanxuary

      You are tragically funny. Yes people will pay you to give them dysentery to lose weight. Taking responsibility?? Not so much.

    • profile image


      6 years ago

      That idea will never work but drinking something that provides a colon cleanse is all the craze. After sitting on the toilet for an hour of self inflicted dysentery causes you to lose 4 to 8 pounds. Perhaps all the ecoli caused by feeding cows grain can be advertised as a weight loss program. Teaching people self control is the last thing we would ever teach in advertising. Every time I buy something there should be a pretty girl and the possibility of sex. If you get me started on this it will not be long before I am staring in Las Vegas.

    • chefsref profile imageAUTHOR

      Lee Raynor 

      6 years ago from Citra Florida

      The sad thing is that voting could count if only we would stop voting for the incumbents.

      I discovered the secret to weight loss, eat less! Now how can I dupe fools into sending me money for my secret weight loss formula?

    • profile image


      6 years ago

      Wow just like voting and thinking it counts. A lot like those surveys that only ask what they want it to know. Pavlov was the king of advertising ask anyone who is fat. Its not the food, you just need a cure with a lot of side effects to defeat that fat gene you were born with. Its just my choice to make everyone suffer from my consequences. If you disagree you must be violating my civil rights, no wonder I can not find a good argument any more.

    • chefsref profile imageAUTHOR

      Lee Raynor 

      6 years ago from Citra Florida

      Thanx Jill

      Yeah I was a little surprised to find out I was hitting a Placebo Button daily for years

    • The Dirt Farmer profile image

      Jill Spencer 

      6 years ago from United States

      This one really made me laugh. I want more placebo buttons! Shared & voted up. (:


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